There are countless movies that give their take on the Troubles. So, what does Kenneth Branagh and Co have to say about it?
Belfast is a movie that I did not know a lot about before watching. I was aware of the awards hype around it, and that led me to really have large expectations. It’s also worth noting that I’m not a fan of war movies, so there was always a fear that it would become just another war movie, but thankfully Belfast is much more than that.
The whole plot revolves around a working-class family living in Belfast in the late 1960s, consisting of Ma (Caitriona Balfe), Da (Jamie Dornan), and their two sons, Will (Lewis McAskie) and Buddy (Jude Hill). The latter being the main character and is based on writer/director Kenneth Branagh. The plot centres around a single street that has become a target of the Troubles, and what it was like for a family simply trying to survive.
The reason for Belfast’s success really comes down to at its core being an intensely personal story from Kenneth Branagh. Based on Branagh’s actual life, we see how the conflicts affected the normal people, but these weren’t just nameless characters that lived nearby, but actual people and the movie makes them feel exactly like that. There is a sense of community that is not often seen in movies, with nosy neighbours and everyone knowing everything about everybody. Then this community is struck with a sudden attack that turns joy into fear, with this fear of a random street in Belfast being with you for the rest of the movie.
But what is a community without its members? Well, Belfast has you covered there too. The story is mostly set in one household, with every member knocking the roles out of the park. Belfast has not only three generations of members of the family, but three generations of actors, with veterans such as Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds being the elders that have experience in the ways of the world, and can guide the younger generations, Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe being two actors that have not yet reached their peak and are still learning, just as they are doing as parents. Finally, the two boys are only finding their way, which reflects their journey as actors too.
On a more visual element, the black and white is beautiful, but it allows a vintage feel that adds to the area. However, there are moments when the family go to the cinema that colour escapes from the screen, embracing the theme that the family need an escape from the black and white world they live in, and for a young Kenneth Branagh who obviously went into movies, this was his escape.
Lastly, and most touching, is that the movie is a love letter to Belfast (the place). It’s clear that while this time for this young family was a tough one, they managed to safely escape. A touching message at the end dedicates the movie to the people that weren’t so lucky. The normal people that got caught up in a war that put neighbour against neighbour.
Overall, Belfast is a touching take on that time without focusing too much on the conflict, but the impact that it had on the regular person. It’s heartbreaking to see such violence happening so recently, but it is handled so carefully by a writer/director that was there to experience it first hand. There is no exploitation of a time or people, but a tribute to a heartbreaking time in Irish history that will have Jamie Dornan's version of Everlasting Love stuck in your head for weeks.
Writer/Director: Kenneth Branagh (Much Ado About Nothing)
Jude Hill (Debut)
Lewis McAskie (Debut)
Caitriona Balfe (Outlander, Ford v Ferrari)
Jamie Dornan (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, Fifty Shades Franchise)
Judi Dench (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, James Bond Franchise)
Ciarán Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Harry Potter Franchise)
Running Time: 1h 38m