“Belfast”, written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, is an exceptional tribute to “everyday people”, especially his family, who are going through very difficult times. It begins with a dramatic confrontational scene in August 1969, giving us a glimpse into some of the street violence that took place during the years of conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. The choice to shoot in black and white reinforces the efforts of Branagh and director of photography, Haris Zambarloukos, to bring the viewer into the story.
“Buddy”, the character who portrays young Branagh, played by Jude Hill, does a terrific job as a 9 year old boy who is often faced with life changing situations. So, one can understand his impressive tantrum when he opposes his father, superbly portrayed by Jamie Dornan, and his mother, an extraordinary Caitriona Balfe, as they present the case for their family to move to London in order to that dad can accept a major promotion in his job as a skilled worker.
This scene was very important to me, and quite possibly to many others, who, being young, experienced the unsettling effects of moving from a familiar place to a different terrain where you didn’t know anyone. In my case, I didn’t complain much; in a military family, you didn’t want to be seen as a “crybaby”.
Branagh has indeed drawn parallels with certain historical scenes that most of us are familiar with. One wonders if Buddy’s dad actually had the ability to throw a ball with such precision that he could knock an object off his eldest son’s head. However, this “feat” of William Tell comes back into play in the final stages of a riot, paving the way for the teenage son, quietly played by Lewis McAskie, to throw a piece of the sidewalk at his father, whose precise throw may have. -being saved lives.
Returning to the Branagh family’s movie outings, there’s a very emotional moment when Judi Dench, who plays Buddy’s grandmother, tells her that when she was young she had a fascination with movies. She described how she felt like somehow she could find a way to get to the other side of the screen and speak with the characters she was watching. It seems that, in real life, the magical Mrs. Dench has found a way to do it.
Continuing the reflections generated by the scenes from the Branagh family’s cinematic adventures, consider “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” which in one of the few color scenes in “Belfast” features a flying car, driven by Dick Van Dyke. I was brought to think of my father taking the family to a mid-1950s classic, “Thunder Road,” in which Robert Mitchum, a notorious moonlight delivery boy, ends up “flying” in. an electrical network. (I didn’t realize for many years that I had a parent who was in this business.)
Anyway, during the Landmark Theater screening I attended, Kenneth Branagh introduced most of the actors above, including Ciaran Hinds, who looked gorgeous as Buddy’s grandfather. The director told the packed house that he was working especially hard to make the right choices, since “the actors would play people who were so important to me.” In my humble opinion, Branagh did an amazing job. “Belfast” won the Best Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and is expected to be a favorite for several Oscars.
“Beltast” is currently playing at Cinemapolis until December 2nd. Visit https://cinemapolis.org/film/belfast/ for schedules.