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Belfast LFF Review

★★★★

Directed by and Written by: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Jude Hill, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe

Film Review by Robert Stayte

 


 

Whilst Director/Actor Sir Kenneth Branagh has made a wide range of films, his background in Northern Ireland has not been depicted by him at all. Until now, as Belfast is him telling a fictionalised account of his own childhood, which seems to be a filmmaking rite of passage due to it’s commonality (Roma, American Graffiti, Almost Famous are examples). It manages to be one of his stronger films in recent memory.


In Northern Ireland during The Troubles (specifically the late 60’s), chaos and rioting is erupting. Child Buddy and his close family are dealing with these circumstances, being caught between staying at home and leaving the country altogether. His father (Jamie Dornan) and mother (Caitriona Balfe) are in a conflict over this, with several other personal situations going on as well.


Belfast does have a central conflict, but it is just as concerned with side stories and even brief scenes of a childhood in progress. However, the script manages to tie them together and pay them off enough to make you feel like you’re not watching a lot of pointless scenes. Whilst Branagh’s personal story is clear, it’s one that most likely many people will be able to relate to in some fashion. Even the ending is pretty understated and perhaps a little quick, but it’s sincere in it’s emotions.


It’s also visually beautiful, with the black and white cinematography mostly working to invoke the memory of the time. Not to mention, the brief uses of colour have many potential interpretations and stand out because of the moments they are pared with. Van Morrison’s soundtrack also helps with the nostalgic feeling, whilst also being nice to listen to on its own.


Branagh also gets many strong performances out of his cast. Jude Hill does a great job for a first-time child actor, being a good and cute anchor for the story. Caitriona Balfe does emotionally raw work and Hinds/Dench are both charming and heartfelt in their respective roles as Buddy’s Grandparents. Jamie Dornan isn’t quite as good as the others but he’s still likeable and captures that nice dad energy.


If there is one major flaw, it’s that a lot of the dialogue was hard to understand. This is either just a fault of the natural Northern Irish accents or a genuine fault of the audio mixing, but regardless it’ll be something that could be a struggle for anyone seeing this film at a cinema. Most of the (important) dialogue is understandable, but many lines weren’t, though this could vary from person to person.


Belfast is an emotionally effecting and enjoyable crowd-pleasing watch that will hit home for many viewers and serves as an honest and sentimental work for Branagh.

 

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