TIFF ’21: ‘Belfast’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Over the years Kenneth Branagh has worked on a variety of different projects. He brought Shakespeare, a Disney princess, and the God of Thunder to life. Branagh is very skilled in creating a contained world for all of these characters. His attention to detail and love for the material shines through every single time. His latest film, Belfast is unlike anything he has done before and that is what makes this film special. This was a passion project for Branagh. His personal life experiences made for an emotional story that will resonate with many. There are religious and political debates that fuel the background narrative, but his family life and love for moving pictures are what makes this one of the most heart-warming films of the year.

Belfast is a coming-of-age drama set during the late-1960s in Northern Ireland. The film follows young Buddy (Jude Hill) as he navigates the landscape of working-class struggle, cultural changes, and sectarian violence. Buddy dreams of a glamorous future that will whisk him far from his troubles. In the meantime, he finds consolation in his charismatic Pa (Jamie Dornan) and Ma (Caitríona Balfe), and his spry, tale-spinning grandparents (Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench). This cast worked so well together and you could feel them united as a family unit. Their chemistry and genuine love for this story was definitely felt.

The reason why Belfast struck a chord with me had nothing to do with the political discourse. It was Branagh’s ode to cinema that made me incredibly emotional. Through the eyes of Buddy, we feel the excitement of watching a new motion picture on the big screen, or catching an old Western on the television. The wonderment and genuine love for cinema came through in the camerawork itself and the eyes of Buddy. Branagh also played with colour and texture on screen, which I really loved. When Branagh does switch to colour, it’s pure magic because of Buddy’s reactions. Being able to recreate that feeling of watching something on the big screen for the first time is a beautiful thing.

Belfast is one of my favourite movies of the year! There are strong emotional moments between Balfe and Dornan to establish the working class struggles. There are conversations between Buddy and his grandparents that create that generational connection through the stories of the past. Each character in this cast shapes the story and shapes Buddy. The songs from Van Morrison and the pop culture references, especially one in particular, makes this Branagh’s best feature to date. It’s a family film about respecting the stories of the past and moving forward for a better future, by never forgetting the streets that raised you.

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