• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Belfast Review

ByJames Fahey

Feb 7, 2022

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As the awards season comes rolling in, so too come films like Belfast: an acclaimed writer-director’s tribute to a childhood disrupted by The Troubles, made all the more nostalgic through a black-and-white colour palette. If this sounds similar to other recent Best Picture nominees, that’s because it is. Lady Bird and Roma (also shot in black-and-white) gained Oscars hype for their explorations of a writer-director’s personal history, just as Kenneth Branagh does in Belfast. Indeed, he has created a film worthy of that feel-good category, delivering smiles and tenderness from his own memory, painting a gold hue upon a city long associated with despair.

Jude Hill, an instantly charismatic actor, stars as nine-year-old Buddy, the younger child of a Protestant family in the Belfast of 1969. The street upon which he lives represents the world, and when the Troubles come, that world shifts from childhood idyll to something resembling a warzone. Metal barricades, gangster loyalists, and the military all appear in response to the times.

Despite the violence that surrounds him, Buddy’s preoccupations don’t change much. Aside from some endearing conversations about the difference between Catholics and Protestants (you can apparently tell a Catholic by their name), Buddy’s main concern is the pretty girl that sits next to him in school. With his father (Jamie Dornan) home only intermittently due to his work in England, he is left in his mother’s care (an incendiary Caitríona Balfe), who ever-presently threatens the wrath of God should he not fall in line.

Throughout his trials and trepidations, Buddy is guided by Pop (Ciarán Hinds) and Granny (Judi Dench), his caring grandparents. The relationship between Hill, Hinds, and Dench is as genuine displaying the most intimate grandparent-grandchild bound, with Pop and Granny hearing out Buddy’s concerns with open ears and sage advice. Multiple times Buddy will begin a conversation with Pop in earnest, before Granny chimes in from a background that you never noticed was there. It’s a visual depiction of matriarchal awareness that is nothing short of immaculate.

Rather than being coherently linear, Belfast adopts a scattershot quality, wherein various moments are sequenced together without meaningful cohesion. It gives the film an episodic feeling that might have caused the film to fail, had the sequences been anything less than exceptional. And the sequences are exceptional, proudly displaying a heart so big that it just barely avoids saccharine sentimentality. Belfast may not be more than the sum of its parts, but those parts are realised with such intimacy, empathy, and joy that it’s hard not to fall in love with it. The film radiates a kindness and authenticity that can remedy any ailing heart. For troubling times, Buddy’s smile will surely help.

Image credit: Ronald Woan via Wikimedia Commons