Academy-Award nominee Kenneth Branagh’s intimate showcase of 1960s Belfast is told through one family’s story. Our Gadi Elkon gives his full review of the latest film from Sir Kenneth Branagh.
Belfast is a poignant story of love, laughter and loss in one boy’s childhood, amid the music and social tumult of the late 1960s.
The film opens with Aireal coverage going from the shipping yards of Belfast, tinted with the golden yellow structures, through the historic town’s famous statues over the country landscape onto our one street setting. The street and area was an amazing fabrication by Branagh’s frequent production designer Jim Clay who replicated the tight community of Sir Kenneth’s youth. The real touch of genius was the way in which Kenneth Branagh and his DP Haris Zambarloukos take us into the past of 1960s Belfast. As we creep up a brick facade the color is spliced out giving the film a black and white look throughout. This one choice really is the start of a ton of treats Branagh gives us with what must be his most personal film to date. There is a rather amazing touch of color later in the film that adds another magical moment, but I won’t spoil that for you. Instead realize that Belfast being shown in Black and White is done with a nice touch of nostalgia and love.
Cast wise this film is filled with real brilliance. Frequent Branagh muse Judi Dench steals ever scene she is involved. The fit of her granny glasses to her final farewell moment are further proof of the master work of Dame Dench. Ciaran Hinds though may be the most fantastic casting choice as his moments with young newcomer Jude Hill are pure joy to watch. Hinds tough exterior has made him a perfect gruff hero or total big baddy, but here as the sickly Pop he is a revelation. Some of the most profound dialogue comes from Hinds advice either to young Jude or to Jamie Doran’s Pa character. The elder grandparents in the film allude to the historical nature of the tale and ground the family dynamic so well. Jude Hill is such a lovely find as a young actor. His innocent inquisitive nature is the hallmark element of the film and allow the audiences who are less knowledgeable to be brought fully into 1960s Belfast. But for me the real treat of the film is Caitriona Balfe as Ma. The strong overbearing mother figure is dutifully done by Balfe and even the sparse moments between her and Jamie Doran allow for us to understand her deep love. Jamie Doran has a masterful moment where his singing and dancing take centerstage but only because we are treated to Balfe’s amazing gaze that shows why she fell for Pa. Balfe’s magic happens throughout the movie but in the film’s more harrowing moments that she shines. Ma searching for her boys or in particular young Jude Hill’s Buddy we get so much connection. A scene at a looting of the local grocery is the film’s most unexpected, with its incredible tension, Balfe contribution as she has to battle over trying to reign in her young son during a riot. Overall the casting choices sell Branagh’s slice of personal life in the most honest of ways.
Belfast has that perfect historical note tied in with a real powerful family tale. Feels like this film will act as an amazing hug of inspiration and hope just in times for the holidays. Branagh’s most personal story is maybe his most rewarding.
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Kenneth Branagh
Selig Rating: 4 Stars
Running Time: 1 hr 38 min
Theatrical Release: November 12th
Starring: Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds, Jude Hill
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
4 Stars – Good movie
3 Stars – OK movie
2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.