Belfast is one of those films that comes along very rarely. I knew I wanted to see it given that Kenneth Branagh was involved but with a cast that includes Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Jamie Dornan, and Caitríona Balfe, it is guaranteed that the star power will lure people into watching this movie. However, it is just the talented actors that make it worth it, or is it something more? In this case, yes. The talent involved is unparalleled, especially the young actor playing Buddy, Jude Hill. The story is full of quiet impactful moments and the action is intense. The film sweeps you up into a narrative that recreates the history of a tumultuous time through the eyes of one child and his family.

Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, Belfast is a deeply personal vision of a young boy’s childhood amongst the conflict of Belfast, Northern Ireland in the 1960s. In the film, young Buddy (Jude Hill) is playing on his quiet joyful street when rioters disrupt the scene and throw bombs, looting and causing chaos in protest of the Catholics living peacefully there. Buddy, his brother Will (Lewis McAskie), and their Ma (Caitríona Balfe) huddle for safety in their house. After the riot, the street is cordoned off and soldiers are brought in to maintain peace. We soon learn that Pa (Jamie Dornan) works in England while his parents, Granny (Judi Dench) and Pop (Ciarán Hinds) live in the neighborhood, helping the children and their mother while he’s away. We also learn that the family is in debt. Pa wants to give them a better life but with the riots thinks they may have to leave Belfast to do so. None of them know anything else but will the violence escalate to the point that they have no choice but to leave the only home they’ve ever known?

Caitriona Balfe stars as “Ma” in director Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST, a Focus Features release.

What makes this film so stunning is the care that is taken to build the narrative. This is clearly a deeply personal story for Kenneth Branagh, with roots buried in his own past. This semi-autobiographical film explores a working-class family and their young son’s childhood during a turbulent time in Belfast’s history. The narrative explores the beautiful aspects, all the family and friends, the close-knit community, and caring joyful moments but it also shows the violence and painful moments as well, times when the family struggles and how thugs were rioting and looting, using fear to stir up hatred against Catholics. The family is Protestant but the writing is balanced, showing both sides of the conflict and also showing how much anger is stirred up by those who want to cause fear. Ultimately, it is the deeply personal moments between Buddy and his family that is the most moving, as we experience a young child’s love of his home, his family, and his fear of the unknown.

Jude Hill stars as “Buddy” in director Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features

Despite the moments of violence, the film also offers moments of humor and love. Buddy’s talks with his Pop, as Pop teaches him math adds realistic humor and authenticity. Buddy attempting to get a seat next to the girl he likes is another spot of joy and laughter. Moments between Pa and Ma, where they dance and talk are beautiful and powerful. Even the more serious moments, where Ma and Pa fight, add to the beauty of the film and the feeling of truth to the movie.

(L to R) Judi Dench as “Granny”, Jude Hill as “Buddy” and Ciarán Hinds as “Pop” in director Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features

Visually, this movie is equally powerful. The filming illustrates the battleground feel with the soldiers and the riots. Yet, the film also grounds us in the time period by little clips of tv shows like Star Trek, films like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or the students studying the moon landing. The colors are kept in grayscale adding a note of seriousness to the even humorous scenes while the films that the family watch are in color. Radio clips add to the drama and add insight into the information of the time period, helping the viewer understand the situation better. Everything ties together in a realistic and authentic way.

(L to R) Caitriona Balfe as “Ma”, Jamie Dornan as “Pa”, Judi Dench as “Granny”, Jude Hill as “Buddy”, and Lewis McAskie as “Will” in director Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features

The performances are as impressive as the writing. The acting of Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe are powerful, they’re dynamic rich, and emotional, the chemistry honest and beautiful. Equally skilled are Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds who also have glorious chemistry, especially as an older couple. There is humor and love in every interaction between the pair. But the true highlight of the movie is Jude Hill playing Buddy. As the point of view character, Jude Hill has a true breakout performance full of humor, joy, and authenticity. He shines in this film as does everyone around him. Between the acting and the writing, there is not one false step in this movie.

(L to R) Jamie Dornan as “Pa”, Ciarán Hinds as “Pop”, Jude Hill as “Buddy”, and Judi Dench as “Granny” in director Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features

If I were to offer any critique, it would be the lack of need for the grayscale coloration in the film. To me, it doesn’t detract from the film but also doesn’t add anything. Simply keeping the set in period clothing and set dressing is enough. While I’m sure there might be a reason, to me, it isn’t necessary for me to love the story. That said, it does nothing to hurt the film either.

This is one of the most brilliant films I’ve watched, full of heart and beautiful moments all about a family in the midst of a terrible conflict. If you love films by Kenneth Branagh or you love dramatic films about families, I highly recommend this movie. The performances are some of the best I’ve seen and the story is incredible.

Rating: 5 out of 5 trash can shields.

Official Website: Belfast Official Site | Belfast Tickets | Belfast Trailer
Facebook: @BelfastMovie
Twitter: @BelfastMovie
Instagram: @belfastmovie



Genre: Drama

Focus Features presents Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST. Written and directed by Academy Award® nominee Branagh, BELFAST is the humorous, tender, and intensely personal story of one boy’s childhood during the tumult of the late 1960s in the city of Branagh’s birth.
BELFAST is a movie straight from Branagh’s own experience. A nine-year-old boy must chart a path towards adulthood through a world that has suddenly turned upside down. His stable and loving community and everything he thought he understood about life is changed forever but joy, laughter, music, and the formative magic of the movies remain. BELFAST opens exclusively in theaters Friday, November 12, 2021.

ONE-LINER: A young boy and his working-class family experience the tumultuous late 1960s.

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