Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I saw the 1968 movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when I was a kid. I wasn’t impressed. In fact, it bored me to tears. Now to be fair I saw it on a 19″ TV back in the 1970s. Apparently, director Kenneth Branagh experienced the release in a packed theater when it debuted. He clearly loved it as a child. The entire audience swayed forward and back when the car took flight. They even all joined together to sing. The ridiculously repetitive lyrics of the title ditty are still in my head. I wanted that experience. Could I be wrong? Maybe the picture isn’t so bad. Belfast made me nostalgic for a thing I don’t even like. Even bad stuff from our childhood can seem charming in retrospect. That’s the power of this film.

Teachers instruct to “write what you know.” Belfast is a personal tale written and directed by Kenneth Branagh. A semi-autobiographical saga about growing up in Northern Ireland in 1969. The story uses the backdrop of the Troubles through the eyes of Buddy, a 9-year-old boy portrayed by Jude Hill. But the chronicle isn’t just about that conflict between Protestants and Catholics. This is an episodic coming-of-age portrait. While it contains moments of strife, there are also affirmations of great happiness.

Branagh draws on his own experiences and that passion gives the narrative life and verisimilitude. The drama contrasts the troubling events of rioting in the streets through an uplifting outlook. Happy times include the crush that the Protestant Buddy has on Catholic classmate Catherine (Olive Tennant, the daughter of Doctor Who David Tennant) and evenings with the family at the local movie house. The black and white cinematography from Haris Zambarloukos (Mamma Mia!) adds a burst of color whenever they’re enjoying a picture. I mentioned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the outset, but The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and One Million Years BC are also detailed. The wonder of cinema is indeed a recurring theme. An amusing example details a vignette when his mom — nicely played by actress Caitriona Balfe (Starz TV series Outlander) — is eyeing his dad in the theater while Raquel Welch is up on screen prancing about in her furry bikini.

Belfast is an anecdotal memoir through the rose-colored glasses of a devoted family. Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan are his “Ma” and “Pa”. The director idolizes his parents like movie stars. A performance of the song “Everlasting Love” is emotionally engaging. Pa croons while Ma dances. Their eyes lock and their joyous affection is palpable. There’s a couple of warm and sagacious grandparents (Ciarán Hinds & Judi Dench) too. However, no discussion of the cast would be complete without highlighting newcomer Jude Hill. As the personification of Kenneth Branagh as a youth, he is captivating in the role. Natural, realistic, and completely adorable. The camera lingers on his cherubic face in closeup. His expressive portrayal captured my heart. I can’t say enough good things about his accomplishment.

Belfast isn’t particularly deep or powerful, but it is sweet and sincere. The reminiscence comes from deeply held memories. Kenneth Branagh does a nice job of detailing his formative years in the later 1960s. Only he could tell the tale from this perspective and it is appealing. I must say, Kenneth Branagh’s output is wildly unpredictable. His talent has given us works that run the gamut from the sublime (Henry V) to the execrable (Artemis Fowl). The director’s one-two punch of Artemis Fowl and then Belfast just might be one of the greatest disparities in the merit of two films to follow each other. I’m open to better examples.


6 Responses to “Belfast”

  1. That this is a warm and crowd-pleasing film is a big surprise for me, and definitely going to make me want to see it more. Every time I think of a movie set in Ireland during the Troubles, I think of a rather unpleasant experience (or, the excellent movie ’71 with Jack O’Connell). It’s nice to see a more optimistic story about the things we have in common rather than what pushes us apart.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was absolutely thinking this was gonna be a shoe in for my favorite movie of the year. The preview had me so excited. Although it was very good, it didn’t blow me away. The kid really made this special. He was directed well. I’ll still give this 3 1/2 ⭐️, was hoping it deserved higher.
    Side note, I loved the song and dance towards the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Given all the junk he’s been responsible for, I was really surprised that Branagh was able to write and direct a script as untainted by corruption as this one turned out to be.

    The theme of a kid infatuated with movies and a girl down the block has a lot of overlap with “Cinema Paradiso”, but “Belfast” has the Catholic-Protestant conflict to give substance to the whole thing, and Branagh’s characterizations are way better than the caricatures-for-comic-effect that populated Paradiso.

    Who knows? Maybe the guy’s ready to try Shakespeare again. Hint: hire a good editor.

    Liked by 1 person

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