Film Review – BELFAST (2021)

BELFAST (2021, UK, 98m, 12) ****
Biography, Drama
dist. Universal Pictures International (UPI) (UK), Focus Features (USA); pr co. TKBC; d. Kenneth Branagh; w. Kenneth Branagh; pr. Laura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik, Tamar Thomas; ph. Haris Zambarloukos (B&W/Colour | 1.85:1); m. Van Morrison; ed. Úna Ní Dhonghaíle; pd. Jim Clay; ad. Dominic Masters.
cast: Caitriona Balfe (Ma ), Jamie Dornan (Pa), Judi Dench (Granny), Ciarán Hinds (Pop), Jude Hill (Buddy), Lewis McAskie (Will), Josie Walker (Auntie Violet), Freya Yates (Cousin Frances), Nessa Eriksson (Cousin Vanessa), Charlie Barnard (Cousin Charlie), Frankie Hastings (Auntie Mary), Máiréad Tyers (Auntie Eileen), Caolan McCarthy (Uncle Sammie), Ian Dunnett Jnr (Uncle Tony), Michael Maloney (Frankie West), Lara McDonnell (Moira), Chris McCurry (Mr. Stewart), Rachel Feeney (Mrs Ford), Elly Condron (Mrs. Kavanagh), Drew Dillon (Mr. Kavanagh).
Branagh tells the story of his adolescent upbringing in Belfast during the troubles in the late 1960s. The film focuses on the impact that the escalating religious and political issues had on passive communities as seen through the eyes of 9-year-old Billy (engagingly portrayed by Hill). His working-class parents (Balfe and Dornan) are, like many, struggling to make ends meet with Dornan requiring taking work in England to pay off their debts. The closeness of the community and the family’s bond with Billy’s grandparents (Dench and Hinds) are strengths that enable them to live in the battle-torn streets. As the violence escalates and Dornan resists the pressures from the local protestant gang leader to swear his allegiance, the family must decide on its future. The film has no political points to make and instead throws light on the impact of the actions of the militant few on the peaceful many. The film merely intends to reflect philosophically on these issues, wonderfully expressed through Hinds, who delivers an understated but impactful performance. The film only falters when sentimentality creeps in from time to time with the need to create a feel-good factor to offset the horrors of the street violence, but otherwise, this is an honest and thought-provoking experience with moments of warm humour.