Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical account, BELFAST, is a treat to watch. This visually stunning and emotionally captivating movie tells a remarkable tale of Belfast in 1969, at a time when Northern Ireland was raging civil war.
As tensions between the Catholics and the Protestants in the city are rising during the period referred to as “the troubles”, Branagh depicts Belfast through Buddy (Jude Hall), a young 9-year-old.
As the lead protagonist, Buddy presents an innocent search for hope and joy amidst all the despair the city’s inhabitants are mired by. Through and through, this simple and elegant movie shot in black and white is brilliant. The movie was nominated for 6 Academy Awards and won Oscar for “Best Original Screenplay”.
After a beautiful montage of the city in the present day, the movie moves backwards to August 1969. The movie opens with Buddy playing with his friends and the familial connections sustained in the neighbourhood.
However, within seconds, everyday life is halted by the surge of civil unrest. The scene shifts to rioters throwing fire bottles at residents, tearing down Catholic households, and burning automobiles.
Amid all this chaos, Buddy grows up in a protestant family in Belfast with his mother, elder brother, absentee father, pop (grandpa), and granny. Belfast, in some sense, is about family.
It is about the familial connections, the love the people shared with each other, the ones that turned against one another, and the life of children during this time. Despite all the chaos in the background, Branagh’s focus doesn’t move beyond the close-knit family.
Branagh’s movie intends to pay tribute to those who left, those who stayed back, and those who were lost. Despite the tumultuous portrayal of Belfast’s history through Buddy, much is left out.
There were nuances to Northern Ireland’s history. There was constant trouble between the Protestant Unionists (who wanted Ireland to stay in Great Britain) and Catholic Separatists (who wanted Ireland to be a separate nation).
However, the movie may be drawing against these assertions and pointing out that the historical truth is not all that simple. Perhaps, not all Protestants partook in violence and arson against Catholics in Northern Ireland. Therefore, this movie is a moving tribute to the people of Northern Ireland, in their resilience and ability to find hope in the midst of conflict.
Despite being a Protestant, Buddy’s family strayed apart from the violence. They took a contrarian position of living peacefully with Catholics—and when it came to their safety, they decided to move to England.
Buddy’s life is simple. He navigates through school, family, home, and football. Besides this, he has a crush on a classmate (who he finally gifts a flower as he moves to England). He gets dragged into riots and gets on with shoplifting. He does all this while his family is going through rough times, with debt looming over their heads.
In terms of performances, all actors are at their primal best. Jude Hall as Buddy is natural and exudes innocence. Other actors complement his performance and present a beautiful adage to their roles. In between, there are dances, music, and theatrical performances throughout the movie.
There is a tinge of joy, laughter, music, sadness, and nostalgia. Family is at the centre of the storyline. Buddy’s close relationship with his grandparents, cousins, parents, and brother is reflected through the frames. There is also great attention to detail in capturing the period, with stunning visuals, costumes, and sets.
Overall, Belfast is a phenomenal movie that is innocent, funny, warm, tender, and heartwarming—and times, even heartbreaking. The movie’s technicalities further add to the compelling storyline.
Therefore, it is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys great storytelling, powerful performances, and captivating cinematography.
Watch on Netflix
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