Family, home, country, neighbors, religion, and the need to adapt are at the heart of Kenneth Branagh’s latest film, Belfast, starring Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Jude Hill, Lewis McAskie, Judi Dench, and Ciaran Hinds.
The movie opens in bright color in present-day Belfast in Ireland and masterfully transitions to black-and-white in the summer of 1969 just before the riots and violence against Catholics by the Protestants. The turbulent changes are seen in the film through the eyes of Buddy, a nine-year-old Protestant (Jude Hill) who’s shown playing in the streets just a few blocks from his house having fun and saying hi to all his neighbors. This sweet moment’s broken up when a car bomb goes off and an angry mob of Protestants charge down the street to lay siege to the Catholic families who live there.
Fortunately, Buddy’s mother (Caitriona Balfe) quickly pulls Buddy and his older brother(Lewis McAskie), into their home to keep them safe from the sudden violence.
After the destruction, the authorities erect barricades and post guards to do checks for the next few weeks, only allowing those who can prove they live in the area to enter. Buddy’s father (Jamie Dornan), who works in England, arrives home for the weekend and discovers what’s happened. After speaking with his wife, he tries his best to explain to Buddy and his brother that the Protestants who are attacking their Catholic neighbors are just mean thugs and it’s best to stay away from them.
Buddy finds ways to escape the scary, escalating violence invading his neighborhood and country by going to the movies – which he loves – and spending time with his grandma (Dame Judi Dench) and grandpa (Ciaran Hinds) who are also neighbors. He also fills the hours by falling for a young girl in his class (Olive Tennant).
As tensions grow and Belfast begins its religious civil war, Buddy’s father becomes determined to get his family out and keep them safe by moving to either Australia or England where he works. Buddy’s mother resists the idea as she doesn’t want to leave her family, friends, or the neighbors she grew up with and has known her whole life.
Written and directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh, Belfast is a moving, funny, and heartfelt semi-autobiographical film that captures the importance of family and the loss of innocence in children who grew up in Northern Ireland during its tumultous upheaval. It’s masterfully filmed with wonderful cinematography and a superb cast.
Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench are truly wonderful as Buddy’s grandparents who witness the only home they’ve ever known changing forever – and not for the better. They have wonderful chemistry together and with newcomer Jude Hill. Hill delivers an unforgettable performance as young Buddy, displaying the wonder, excitement, terror, and fear the boy experiences and absorbs throughout the film. Hill’s performance is perhaps the most honest and natural in the film. There’s never a false or forced moment in any scene he’s in.
Jamie Dornan delivers a strong performance as Buddy’s father who has to be away from his family for work and fears what could happen since he’s not there to protect them from the rising violence. Dornan displays the loving and charismatic side Buddy sees in his father as well as the strong and intimidating side he possesses when he stands his ground against one of the leaders of the rioters.
The production design, costumes, and cinematography are excellent, bringing back to life Belfast in 1969 during its violent religious riots so vividly that the audience is sure to at times feel as though they’re watching a shocking and moving documentary instead of a movie recalling those traumatic times.
Charming, warm-hearted, and touching, Focus Features’ Belfast is a unique coming-of-age film that captures the importance of family, community, and country. It’s one of the best pictures of the year and one of the better films to have come along in years. See it!
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for strong language and some violence
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
Release Date: November 12, 2021