Rapscallion Magazine Film Review: Striking cinematography and a child’s eye view of the Troubles in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast makes for an unusual coming of age movie

Jude Hill in Belfast

Film Review: Belfast

A lover letter to the Belfast of his childhood, Kenneth Branagh’s movie of the city’s name is a deeply affectionate child’s eye view of the troubled times of the sectarianism of 1969.

Belfast contrasts the images and ideas that affect nine-year-old Buddy played by Jude Hill, the second son of a Protestant family attempting to stay out of the violence. Head of the family is Pa played by Jamie Dornan along with the real head Ma brought stylishly to life by Caitriona Balfe. There’s Buddy’s older brother Will (Lewis McAskie), his granny (Judy Dench) and Pop (Ciaran Hinds) in what is very much a family and community affair.

Brilliant cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos sets this film apart with its contrasting imagery – one moment dark and bleak of a backstreet in the rain, then a breath takingly beautiful summer’s day, or a sweeping shot of Belfast loch or close ups of frying eggs or a pint of beer. And above all the close-up studies of Jude Hill’s face as Buddy, as he tries to comprehend what is happening all around him. The riots, the violence, the soldiers, the looters and the sinister upstart gangsters parading as protectors to the Protestant community.

The family must decide how to cope with the violence

By simply seeing Buddy’s emotions play out in these close ups we quickly link the various sub plots together along with the slightest hints from the conversations of the grown-ups. He pieces it all together with the fantasies for television, comics and cinema mixed with the wisdom of his elders who try their best to explain the unexplainable to a child.

Belfast is beautiful and frightening, heart warming and cynical, Protestant and Catholic, with at its heart the unreconcilable. The narrative is clear as the family struggles to decide on its future as dark forces destroy the peaceful community at the beginning of the movie. And there are the subplots of Buddy’s grandparents, the gang Buddy unwillingly joins, and his romance with a Catholic female fellow classmate.

The world is seen through the eyes of ‘Buddy’

A highly original coming of age film in a crowded genre which makes the city itself visually an extra character which in a way defines the film. There are shades of John Boorman’s Hope and Glory 1987 film set in the Blitz and Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun of the same year set in war-torn China. Seen through the prism of nostalgia, laced with the brutal harshness of the times and filled with many good jokes it’s a classic and universal take on how society can break down into factional violence – while life continues at the same time – all seen through a school boy’s eyes.

Harry Mottram

Reviewed at Cineworld in Weston-super-Mare on February 15, 2022.

For more details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

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