Set in Belfast in 1969, Belfast is a British coming-of-age drama about a young boy growing up during a time of civil unrest in Northern Ireland. The movie follows the story of 9-year-old Buddy and his family, as they do their best to navigate their way through the Troubles – a period of intense and violent conflict between Catholic and Protestant citizens.
In the film, Buddy is a school boy, who wants nothing more than to get lost in movies, spend time with his friends and grandparents, and catch the romantic eye of a fellow class mate. But Buddy’s world is constantly rocked by the political violence that surrounds him, and this is beginning to have a worrying impact on his life.
The violence is bringing hate to his street, anger to his front door, and death to his community. Buddy’s father and mother try their best to keep him safe, so that he and his brother can experience a happy childhood, but it is clear that things are only getting worse.
Over the course of the film, Buddy’s parents have to make some tough decisions about their future – and whether or not that future resides in Belfast. But do the family say goodbye to their home and their treasured community, or do they stay and face what is coming?
Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, and inspired by events from his own childhood, Belfast stars Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Caitríona Balfe, Colin Morgan, and Jude Hill. The movie is currently playing in cinemas, and if you want to see a truly impressive picture, you’ll do yourself a favour and check it out.
There’s simply no pussy-footing around with this one: Belfast is an incredible piece of filmmaking. It is a beautiful, thoughtful, touching, and often humorous snapshot of life during a difficult time, and it is presented with care and attention to detail.
Writer/director Kenneth Branagh has gone on record in various interviews, to explain that Belfast is a very personal film for him, and this is something which is clear throughout the movie. Belfast feels very much like a film that is told from the perspective of someone who has lived this story, and can still recall every aspect.
When penning the screenplay for this film, I don’t believe that Branagh had to think long and hard about it; I imagine everything flowed when he put pen to paper. I also don’t expect it was difficult for him to decide what characters to include, or how best to arrange the narrative – I would think he peeled the details from his mind, having lived with them imprinted on his brain for the past 50+ years.
And yet when he has put the details all together, he has taken all the chaos, all the pain, and all the fine little memories of his childhood, and turned them into something very intimate. Sure, there is a very clear, very significant story that forms the backdrop of the film, which is bathed in brutal history, but Branagh never lets that detract from what is essentially a tale about a family trying to live their lives.
This film shows fire bombs in the streets, but it is also depicts laughter and merriment while watching a cinema screening of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It highlights division and escalation amongst the people, yet it also offers Christmas presents and the joy of wearing a Thunderbirds costume.
There is nostalgia and laughter, and there is pain and sadness. All of these things can be found on every street, and within every household, and Branagh manages to balance them at all times, and show them off in a way that is truly mesmerising to the eye.
To say that Belfast looks impressive would be a huge understatement. This is the best-looking film I have watched in a very long time.
As someone who studied film at university, and who has watched his fair share of eye-widening pictures, I’m of the firm opinion that Belfast is a movie that will be shown to film students for years to come. It will act as a prime example of how to frame shots, how to play with light and shadows, and how to make every second look like a masterpiece.
I’m not exaggerating here. When putting together this review, I considered getting rid of my words and just showcasing a load of images of the film instead, to let Belfast speak for itself. Thing is, if I did that, the internet algorithms would ignore my review, you’d never come here, and you’d not get to see how bloody marvellous it all looks.
But look – look at the images above and below, and tell me this doesn’t look like something exceptional. And keep in mind, this is just a handful of shots taken from an almost 100-minute movie, so just think about what else is on offer.
While you’re thinking about what is in this film, and looking at the pretty images, let me tell you that Belfast boasts a stellar cast, which includes newcomer, Jude Hill, playing the role of Buddy. Hill had little-to-no experience prior to shooting this film, and yet he handles every scene like a pro.
His performance is effortlessly believable in every scene. He manages to convey a range of emotions throughout the movie, and it’s through his eyes that a great deal of this film takes place.
I expect we shall see much more of Hill in the coming years. His performance here has certainly started his career off in the best possible way.
Other casts members are of course great, because they are tried-and-tested actors such as Jamie Dornan, Colin Morgan, and Judi Dench. Kenneth Branagh sure knows how to pick a damn good cast, and no one feels out of place or out of their depth here – they all just work perfectly together.
And it’s important to note just how grounded they all are. Every performance that is given feels real, and as if these characters exist just up the road, or in the street round the corner.
They are not caricatures, but living, breathing people. Dench is your gran, Dornan your dad, and so on.
Take away the Troubles which shape so much of this movie, and at the heart of this story is a kitchen sink drama – a real-life account of people going about their lives, while loving, laughing, and grieving. This sort of thing can only be conveyed by actors who understand what people are really like and who can bring a certain warmth and familiarity to the screen.
From what I’ve said above, my feelings about Belfast are pretty obvious, but if you nodded off halfway through this review, and are only just coming around now, let me be clear: I think Belfast is superb. Actually, I believe Belfast to be something special.
I’ll say it again, if you want to see a truly impressive picture, you’ll do yourself a favour and check it out. You’ll be missing out if you don’t.
I’m typing up this review in the dying days of January 2022, a week or so ahead of the nominations list for this year’s Academy Awards. If Belfast doesn’t make it onto the Best Picture list I would be very surprised, because for my money this movie is a very strong contender to win.