FILM REVIEW: Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast from Focus Features tells a humorous, tender, and intensely personal story of one boy’s childhood during the tumult of the late 1960s in the city of Branagh’s birth. Belfast is an impeccable work based on Branagh’s own upbringing in Belfast in the late 1960’s.

The soundtrack features a plethora of Van Morrison’s greatest hits, including a newly written song for the film, adding joy and optimism to the challenging circumstances a young couple is facing with their young children. Their nine-year-old boy must chart a path towards adulthood through a world that has suddenly turned upside down. His stable and loving community and everything he thought he understood about life have changed forever but joy, laughter, music, and the formative magic of the movies remain.

(L to R) Caitriona Balfe as “Ma”, Jamie Dornan as “Pa”, Judi Dench as “Granny”, Jude Hill as “Buddy”, and Lewis McAskie as “Will” in director Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST, a Focus Features release. (PHOTO Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features)

The cast includes Golden Globe nominee Caitríona Balfe, Academy Award® winner Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, and introduces the ten-year-old Jude Hill. Dornan and Balfe play a passionate working-class couple caught up in the mayhem, with Dench and Hinds as the quick-witted grandparents. The film is produced by Branagh, Laura Berwick, Becca Kovacik, and Tamar Thomas.

Caitriona Balfe (left) stars as “Ma” and Jamie Dornan (right) stars as “Pa” in director Sir Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features

Exquisitely executed cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos, Director of Photography, utilizes various camera angles reminiscent of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and is simply a visual delight. Befitting the 1960’s the production design from Jim Clay hit the mark with a splattering of classic 1960’s vehicles, urban sidewalks, and building facades to match. The hair, make-up, and costuming donned by the handsome and vivacious actors are a feast for the eyes. Wakana Yoshihara and Charlotte Walker handled the respective departments.

Actor Jude Hill (left) on the set of BELFAST, a Focus Features release. ( PHOTO Credit: Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

The beautiful and talented Belfast actors were cast by Lucy Bevan and Emily Brockman. Úna Ní Dhonghaíle (The Crown) nailed the editing as she managed to draw the viewer into the 1960’s world and keep them there with seamless continuity. And, as mentioned, the music is from the Belfast-born legend, Van Morrison.

Said Kenneth Branagh:

Kenneth Branagh introduced his latest film, Belfast, at the Werner Herzog Theatre as part of the 48th Telluride Film Festival, Thursday, September 2nd, 2021. (Photo by Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

“Belfast is a city of stories and in the late 1960s it went through an incredibly tumultuous period of its history, very dramatic, sometimes violent, that my family and I were caught up in. It’s taken me fifty years to find the right way to write about it, to find the tone I wanted. It can take a very long time to understand just how simple things can be and finding that perspective, years on, provides    a great focus. The story of my childhood, which inspired the film, has become a story of the point in everyone’s life when the child crosses over into adulthood, where innocence is lost…”

 

Belfast, written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, has a perfectly directed runtime of 97 minutes,  a compelling storyline, and is so technically proficient that it appears to be an early favorite for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar Awards for best film and best director. Highly recommended!

***Belfast began its theatrical release on November 12th, 2021, and recently screened November 5th, at Landmark’s Tivoli Theatre in University City, Missouri, as part of the 30th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival, November 4 -21, 2021.

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