Buddy (Jude Hill) has been through a lot for a young boy. He’s witnessed violence on the streets of Belfast, he’s seen his parents struggle for money, and no matter what he does he can’t get the super smart Catholic girl at school to notice him. Ma (Caitríona Balfe) holds down the fort, raising her two young sons while her husband, Pa (Jamie Dornan) engages in one shady business or another, trying to get some money together to pay the family’s overdue taxes. This couple is young and vibrant but the wear and tear of adult life is starting to get to them. Buddy spends a lot of time with his grandparents Pop (Ciarán Hinds) and Granny (Judi Dench), kind hearted elders of the community who are determined to see things through no matter how bad they get. Then some questions arise: What happens when chaos is erupting around you? Do you escape and chose a new life somewhere else? Even if it means facing a whole new set of problems? Or do you fight to hold on that feeling of home?
You don’t have to be an expert on the history of Northern Ireland to appreciate the gravity of the situation happening in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. With the film’s explosive beginning and the lingering threat of violence in the background, Branagh’s film perfectly captures the angst of living in Belfast during those tumultuous years.
This movie is essentially a tender saga about a family, with a particular focus on Buddy, remarkably played by the young Jude Hill. It’s filled with warmth, love, anxiety and a bit of melancholy. Dornan and Balfe bring a vibrancy cut with a bit of sadness to their roles. Dench and Hinds are brilliant, as per usual, as the loving grandparents who are resigned to see any normalcy in their lives slip away. I would be lying if I said Judi Dench wasn’t the reason I was interested in Belfast in the first place. I’ll watch her in anything.
The film is shown in black and white with a few pops of color here and there. There is some great cinematography but it did feel a bit too much like it was shot in present day with a black and white filter. The set design, the costumes, etc were all spot but it was a little too sharp and crisp to feel like it was set in the past. There are several classic movie references and film clips from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, High Noon and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are shown. It’s clear that movies are an escape for the family during this difficult time.
Belfast was part of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival Gala Presentation slate.