Belfast (2021)
Belfast (2021)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: November 12th, 2021 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Kenneth Branagh Actors: Jude Hill, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds, Nessa Eriksson, Lara McDonnell, Lewis McAskie

 


 

I

n August of 1969, little Buddy (Jude Hill) plays with a swarm of neighborhood kids in Belfast, Northern Ireland, kicking around balls, chasing one another, and pretending to ward off dragons with wooden swords and trash can lids for shields. When his mother (Caitriona Balfe) calls him home for tea, he’s suddenly caught up in a street overflowing with rioters, who smash windows, throw bricks, and light cars on fire. He eventually huddles under a table with his older brother Will (Lewis McAskie) to wait out the mayhem.

Troops are soon sent in to mitigate clashes between protestors and police, as the Catholics living in Protestant areas are targeted for harassment and attacks. What was once a peaceful neighborhood full of smiling children is now barricaded by tanks, soldiers, and barbed wire, and strewn with rubble and debris. Buddy’s father (Jamie Dornan), a joiner, manages to make it back home briefly to visit his family, including Granny (Judi Dench) and Pop (Ciaran Hinds), but he’s more caught up in the ongoing conflict than he lets on. “If you can’t be good, be careful.”

Shown from the perspective of youthful Buddy, who couldn’t care less about the differences between the Catholics and Protestants (or, politically, unionists and nationalists), instead concerned about having fun, playing out his childish fantasies, and watching swashbuckling films (and American Westerns, here including shots from “High Noon,” nicely juxtaposed against lonesome Irish streets and tense face-offs), “Belfast” does an excellent job of recreating a time and place, while also educating viewers (particularly those in the United States) on some of the details about the Troubles. For Buddy, his interests also follow a young girl, as this premise is a coming-of-age story, where darker dilemmas lurk in the background of lighter misadventures. This is also apparent with the upbeat, whimsical score, contrasting the severer actions onscreen. “Do you wanna join a gang?”

Crisp black-and-white cinematography similarly highlights the cheeriness of certain locales and the grimness of others. As Buddy focuses on schoolwork and football, plenty of humor and levity arise, chiefly from Hinds and Dench as two tremendously lovable, enjoyable supporting characters, and also from various shenanigans like a hastily-planned operation to steal some sweets from a candy shop. In the background, of course, further predicaments crop up, from back-taxes to increasing poverty to marital quarrels. And when Buddy’s parents argue over the possibility of leaving Belfast to avoid escalating hardships, thoughts of home, family, identity, and loyalty become of fresh concern.

“Get yourselves to the moon.” It may be a small, intimate picture (with certain sequences proving far superior to the movie as a whole), but it boasts big themes, carefully and touchingly written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who crafts a tender autobiographical-feeling yarn that clearly shows the unsubtle ways that the cinema influences growing minds – as well as unavoidable political movements and the related unrest that threatens the status quo. And the performances are convincing all around, with an impressive turn by diminutive star Hill. In the end, it’s sweet and short but thoroughly engaging – a life-affirming, joyous celebration of love, family, perseverance, and the remarkably entertaining notion of common human decency.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10