Film Review: Belfast

One of the most anticipated films of 2022 for this reviewer was Kenneth Branagh’s evocation of his hometown, Belfast. Branagh grew up in a predominately loyalist area of North Belfast just as “The Troubles” were beginning to take off. Your reviewer lived on a vast housing estate a few miles north of his area. How, I wondered, would his recollections tally with mine? What would audiences in Great Britain and abroad think?

A film that packs a real emotional punch

Branagh’s alter ego is nine-year-old Buddy.  He lives in a tightly knit area where everybody knows everyone else when out of the blue, a violent mob comes into the area, attacking the homes of Catholic neighbours, rioting, and erecting barricades. Soldiers appear on the streets, vetting who moves in and out of the area.

Some loyalists have criticised the film, claiming it doesn’t show context and portrays the Protestant Unionist Loyalist (PUL) community in the worst possible light. However, for a nine-year-old, there would be no context, the child would be swept up in the bewildering events unfolding around him. Jude Hill, the young actor who plays the part of Buddy, brings out this sense of innocent confusion, bewilderment and grief magnificently.

Branagh’s decision to film most of the 1969 action in black and white really pays off. I was eleven then and all my recollections of that time are in black and white. Colour television sets didn’t really take off until the late seventies.  So much of this film resonated with me as I was only a couple of years older than Buddy at the time; Buddy’s interest in the Apollo space programme, his Thunderbirds International Rescue uniform, and the old route numbers on the buses. It all came flooding back. It could have been me and my family forced to leave the country if I’d lived four miles up the road.

Judy Dench was quite disappointing in her role as Buddy’s granny. In contrast, her screen husband, Ciaran Hinds, almost stole the show as Buddy’s wise but ailing granddad, Pop.

This film packs a real emotional punch; it left me shedding a few tears for those who had to leave, those left behind whose lives have been screwed up forever and for those who died. Please God, that we in Ulster don’t ever go through all that shit again.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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