In the summer of 1969, the stable life in the capital of Northern Ireland was suddenly disrupted by the Troubles. The father of one family has to go out of town to find work. Will the folks get caught up in the sectarian violence?
All of this is shown in the movie Belfast. And yet, the description misses the utter joy one feels after watching the film. It’s also about familial love in the face of adversity, a first crush, and the joy of cinema. One detail I read explains that the actors who sit in the movie theater are actually seeing that flick segment for the first as they are being recorded.
Kenneth Branaugh, the writer and director, was born on December 10, 1960, in that city. Check out this video. Much of the narrative of the film is seen in the eyes of Buddy, who is clearly Branaugh’s stand-in. Jude Hill, in his film debut, was very relatable. I believe the film works as well as it does because, in a child’s mind, the little things in life are just as important as the big issues.
The critics weigh in
In fact, the British Independent Film Awards for 2021 dubbed the youth’s work the Breakthrough Performance of the year. Other awards were presented to Caitriona Balfe, who played Ma, as Best Actress; Ciarán Hinds (Pa) as Best Supporting Actor; and Judi Dench (Granny) Best Supporting Actress. Also, the Best Editing went to Úna Ní Dhonghaíle.
Among the other nominees was Van Morrison, who was born in Belfast in 1945. His songs almost always fit the movie perfectly. My FAVORITE song in the movie was not his, however, but in the best scene, near the end of the film.
The Rotten Tomatoes score was 87% positive from the critics, 92% positive from the audiences. The negative reviews use terms such as inert, inorganic, cloying, over-directed, and contrived. I would disagree. Branaugh, I think, found the right balance between tension and joy.
The film won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. Even the critical takes acknowledge that the film is beautifully shot in black and white.
My wife and I saw it at the Spectrum 8, a Landmark Theatre, in late November, the first we’d seen in the cinema in four months. And after the film, much of the audience milled around the aisles, clearly greeting old friends they had not seen in a while.