Belfast is a poignant story of love, laughter and loss in one boy's childhood amid the music and social tumult of the late 1960's. Buddy's family lives in a largely Protestant district with a few Catholic families, but one day his community and everything he thought he understood about life is suddenly turned upside down. Buddy's family gets caught in the mayhem and must decide to stay or leave the only place they have ever called home. Through it all, his passionate parents (Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan) and quick-witted grandparents (Academy Award winner Judy Dench and Ciaran Hinds) keep the joy alive through music and the magic of movies in this feel-good story that reminds us that no matter how far you go, you never forget where you came from.
Bittersweet memories of a Belfast childhood but charm over realism
- Belfast review by PD
Kenneth Branagh’s curiously nostalgic piece is every bit the contradiction in terms that it sounds like: you can sort of see what he's trying to do - give a bittersweet picture of the beginnings of the 'Troubles' through a 9-year old's eyes , but despite some powerful scenes the whole thing is so drenched in sentiment that it's very difficult to take seriously. In stark contrast to so many films about or informed by the violence that plagued the city during the latter half of the 20th century, 'Belfast' ultimately opts for romanticism over realism at every turn. It's also a film that wants desperately to be a work of art, but it takes more than black and white cinematography and an affecting central character to bring this off successfully.
The opening sequence is pretty good - Jude Hill as Buddy sword-fighting an innocent swarm of other children in a frenzied street scene interrupted by a mob of angry Protestants looking to cleanse the neighbourhood of the remaining Catholics. Jude Hill as Buddy is all a bit one-dimensional throughout, but there are strong performances from Jamie Dornan as his all-too absent father, who balances his excellent performance between the decency of a man who refuses to raise a fist to his neighbour and the fragility of one who’s concerned about the well-being of his wife and sons, and Caitríona Balfe as Buddy’s similarly beautiful mother, pictured with the elegance of an adult trying to picture what his mother looked like in her prime, and in whose mouth is put the film’s most pivotal speech. There is an irritating Judi Dench as Buddy’s spicy grandma (her Irish accent is worse than mine), but she is offset by the wonderful Ciarán Hinds as her ailing husband of 1,000 years (and Buddy’s confidant). “There’s only one right answer,” Buddy says when talking to his grandpa about the brewing Troubles. “If that were true,” his grandpa replies, “people wouldn’t be blowing themselves up all across this town.”
Branagh creates a vivid sense of Buddy’s home life — warm, chaotic, rooted to the soil — and of a city whose rapid descent into violence threatens to smash the idyllic snow-globe that is his world. There's a great touch of a bellicose, Wellesian minister at his church scaring the boy into drawing a literal road map that divines heaven from hell, a striking (presumably autobiographical) detail in a film full of them, and an underwritten thread in a film that doesn’t have many (Buddy has an older brother and sister, but the characters' only purpose is as supplements to Buddy, which is a shame). And there's some lovely scenes as Buddy and his family watch such classics as 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' and 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' (where the film is momentarily in colour), attesting to cinema’s transportive and inspiring nature; Branagh shrewdly conveys how films are intimately enmeshed with our memories of the past. But because the film underplays the tensions and grievances of the Troubles for such a long stretch of its running time, scenes that attempt political profundities are less an acknowledgement of truths that can no longer be shielded from a child than simply intrusive melodrama.
The film is soundtracked by an incessant string of Van Morrison songs that strain to convey some of the happy-go-lucky childlike energy that’s missing from so much of the camerawork. It’s a telling detail of a very personal film that — despite shimmering with the essence of Branagh’s love — sorely lacks a point-of-view or a sense of cohesion. All in all, lots of charm, but rarely convincing - a retreat from reality rather than an engagement with it.
7 out of 8 members found this review helpful.
Disappointing though beautifully acted
- Belfast review by CH
When one realises that Branagh himself was the same age as the main character Buddy when his family left Belfast for England, one perhaps understands better why this film seems so relentlessly rose- coloured. The acting is wonderful, but all the characters, except the Protestant thug, are wise and loving and deliver speeches full of homespun wisdom. Whether Branagh's own grandfather was a charming old philosopher I have no idea, but I'm confident that in 1969 old men didn't talk about "knowing who you are" as Ciaran Hinds is made to do. This is a shame, because so many opportunities were missed to show how the forces of bigotry and resentment were able to flourish in a society that was outwardly law abiding but fundamentally unjust. Hatred doesn't appear overnight and it was dishonest of Branagh to ignore the part played by the rise of gangsterism among ordinary but disadvantaged people. As an affectionate look at Branagh's own childhood memories the film is nice but shallow. As any kind of portrait in depth of Belfast it is quite inadequate and sentimental.
A remarkable, warm film about childhood and the innocence that comes with it as well as the confusion of watching adults and trying to deal with the emotional conflicts. This is a semi-autobiographical film from director Kenneth Branagh about growing up in the late 60s at the start of the Troubles in Belfast. The film is told through the eye and experience of young Buddy (Jude Hill) the second son to his Ma (Caitriona Balfe) and Pa (Jamie Dornan). They are a protestant family but live in street with a mix of catholics too. Whilst the Troubles forms the backdrop of the film this is more a film about growing up and seeing their world through the bewildered eyes of a child. In that sense it's a nostalgic film which uses it's monochrome cinematography to create that sense of the past. This works extremely well and the film has a warmth while still showing the fear that children feel from experiments with shoplifting to the witnessing of riots and threats from extremists. With a support cast that includes Ciaràn Hinds and Judi Dench as Buddy's grandparents this is a film that really gets to grips with childhood and all the mysteries of life that a child sees. Branagh also rightly indicates the Irish Troubles as a religious conflict that destroyed and changed lives. A really interesting and quite touching film that is worth a trip to the cinema.
3 out of 5 members found this review helpful.
Beautifully crafted evocation of 1970 Belfast real life
- Belfast review by JG
It's impossible to know what life was like for a 9 year-old boy in 1970 Belfast, but I feel as though this film could be a very realistic depiction. It is blessed with wonderful performances from all of the cast who imbue their characters with genuineness, warmth and depth. Stand-out Jude Hill gives us a nuanced and very believable Buddy. The cinematography is breathtaking throughout, and is ably carried along by a gorgeous Van Morrison soundtrack. The storytelling always feels grounded, and manages to avoid unnecessary sensationalism.
I could only watch the first 30 minutes, so that's this isn't a reliable review. The opening scenes were great, but it was down hill after that. The streets looked like a stage set and the people were straight out of central casting: perhaps that was intentional. It didn't engage me at all. I note that The Guardian loved it, so I should known it was likely to be a turkey.
0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.
- Belfast review by Alphaville
Maybe I was watching a different film to most reviewers. Kenneth Branagh has made some good films, but this vanity project about his own 9yo self amidst the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ of 1969 is a self-indulgent bore. The politics and shouty religiosity are a pain. The back streets of Belfast are as dreary a backdrop as you might expect. The child actors unfortunately lack subtlety. As for the score, if you don’t like a warbling Van Morrison you’ll have to turn the sound off. Good points? Nice monochrome lighting.
There’s a human story here if you can be bothered, but you can predict its substance even without seeing the film. All told, it’s the kind of earnest social-realist drama they used to show on TV in the 60s. This is not to minimise the plight of families at that time and place but (unlike most reviewers) to treat it as a FILM. Maybe something interesting happens near the end, but this reviewer had given up by then.
Excellent Acting from the little boy & C.Hinds but spoilt for me by the Irish accents from the rest of the cast-I couldnt understand what was going on.Film jumped about a bit but got better later on.The B&W photography suited the mood & the period was very realistic.DO NOT MISS THE EXTRA BITS with Branagh visiting his home town.
There is much to commend this film on several levels. The acting is superb from the entire cast. Technically, the cinematography is brilliant with much praise deserved for the attention to lighting, which I understand to be natural throughout. It does give the impression that it could work as a stage play but this is not a criticism. If you have a 7.1 system as I have, you will experience a good example of how to use surround sound effectively; it's never intrusive and its use comes over naturally without ever drawing undue attention to itself. One slight criticism is that much of the attention to period detail is 'signaled' - "look at the work that's gone into recreating this soap powder pack!" - and could have been more incidental. For me, and this was a completely bizarre surprise, I found it difficult to follow the story because my attention was constantly drawn to the absolutely stunning visual appearance of the image. In Blu-ray on a UHD screen, the detail just leaps out in an almost 3d impression. It really is so eye-catching that I found myself marveling at it constantly. I think I may need to watch it again.
Brilliant acting and script. The atmosphere of the "Troubles" was very accurate. Well worth watching.
0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.
The beginning of The Troubles in N Ireland
- Belfast review by CC
Particularly if you were not alive at this time (I was, so it was a painful reminder) this film will give an idea of how 2 communities were unable to live in peace, particularly with the extreme and entrenched views that were held on both sides, Protestant and Catholic, how the British Army became involved, and how living in the same city made things worse and more violent between the communities.
A small boy has to make sense of all this while civil war breaks out and his parents have to consider leaving for England but leaving his much loved and loving grandparents behind.
A powerful film documenting the past, but also giving understanding to the very real struggles at that time. Certainly helped me to understand the little 6 year old Belfast girl in 1972 who having come to London with her family, was in my class (I was at teacher in those days) and why it took her a whole school term to stop diving under a table every time there was a loud sound outside or someone slammed a door, in case it was the UDF, IRA or British Army come to grab someone.