Belfast Review: An Intensive Vintage Drama

Belfast Review

Belfast Review: Belfast is an intensely personal film from Kenneth Branagh, who was known for consistently producing award-winning Shakespeare adaptations including Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, and others. He’s worked as a blockbuster director-for-hire for the past decade, helming films as diverse as the first Thor feature to Disney’s live-action Cinderella remake, as well as the snooze-worthy Murder on the Orient Express and his previous effort, the terrible Artemis Fowl. Branagh triumphantly returns as the keen, joyous filmmaker who used to create pictures for himself, not the studio, in Belfast.

Belfast Review

The film is set in Belfast, Ireland, in 1969. Despite the fact that it is shown in black and white, the mood and performances are vibrant and bright. We mostly follow Buddy, a little boy performed with confidence by newcomer Jude Hill, who is presumably a mix of childhood experiences shared by Branagh, who grew up in the neighborhood, and others he knew. Belfast begins by depicting the close-knit, community-oriented environment that Branagh fondly recalls, where everyone knows each other’s name and it’s like a village in the sense that everyone is looking out for each other’s children, as a society used to be before we all became distant, walled-off citizens.

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In a related manner to Last Night in Soho, Branagh soon shatters the romantic veneer of his own film, at least for a few early moments, in order to shed light on the Belfast riots, in which Catholics and Protestants battled it out over who could live peacefully in each district. This is a true story that I had never heard of before, but the video does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of what was happening while constantly filtering it through Buddy’s youthful, bewildered eyes. watch the new clip below.

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We see him struggling to understand how flawed Belfast is, despite his strong feelings for these people, a colorful cast of characters that includes his schoolyard crush, for whom he amusingly tries to improve his grades in order to be assigned a seat next to her based on how the teacher groups students by aptitude. Buddy’s grandparents, on the other hand, take the movie’s heart right from beneath your seat. Buddy’s boisterous grandpa, Ciarán Hinds, is often working on a leather saddle and giving wise advice about ladies and getting along with other youngsters. And Judi Dench, Judi Dench, Dame Judi Dench, plays his always chirpy grandma.

He wants you to feel compassion not only for those who leave their homes in quest of a better life but also for those who stay and those we lose along the road. Yes, it’s in black and white, and it’s frequently depressing, but the film’s greatest surprises come in its bombastic, exuberant, patchwork asides. It’s amusing throughout, there’s a heart-pounding musical sequence that tugs at heartstrings nearly as effectively as John Carney’s Sing Street, and the true joy here is in how you learn to love Belfast almost as much as this small child does, and Branagh by extension.

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Buddy loves going to the movies—not so subtle there—and these are among the few moments we see any color in the film as if to underscore how mind-opening films can be for a youngster when experienced in a theatre, as Buddy also watches westerns at home, but they are still in black and white.

Setting such an amazing film in black and white means you can keep the pop color moments for when something genuinely inventive is occurring onscreen, and the film is full of apparently superfluous touches of originality like that. However, this is also one of the film’s flaws, since everything feels a little flimsy and needless. All of the technicals are absolutely pleasurable, particularly Van Morrison’s music, which is incredibly personal given Morrison’s local Belfast connection. It’s the same as seeing a bunch of friends put on a wonderful performance about a period and location that most people are unfamiliar with or have forgotten about.

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You might absolutely admire their excitement and become lost in it yourself, but the trouble is that you could also get lost in a negative way. Because the script does, in fact, wander quite a bit, but you can tell it’s on purpose. Because, on the plus side, you get a more realistic, well-rounded image of what life is like as a youngster, any child when there’s more than one important life event going on at the same time and fascinations swap back and forth at random because life is such.

Still, I think a stronger, through-line narrative would have taken this to the next level for me, especially when the script throws great lines out of context, like when Hinds tells Buddy that “if they can’t understand you,” referring to people with a different accent he might encounter outside of Ireland, “then they’re not listening.” And although it’s a terrific statement with heft on its own, it could’ve been even better if the film had spent more time building up to these pearls of Chicken Soup wisdom.

Belfast is still a fun time at the cinema; it’s just 97 minutes long, and the individual moments of brilliance, as disjointed as they might be at times, are worth exploring if you want to feel like a kid again, or a different type of kid entirely.

Belfast is set to release in US and UK theaters on November 12.

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Arun Venugopal - Author, SEO Specialist, Content Writer of Maxblizz.

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