This has been the first time since the cinemas reopened that there has been an Unlimited Secret Screening at Cineworld. Of the options that it could have been, it ended up being Belfast. Now I’ve heard a lot of good things about this, but I’ve been keeping myself a bit in the dark on this. I know that it is more of a personal film for Kenneth Branagh, and during a period of more blockbusters for Branagh I was looking forward to seeing what he would do with this. I ended up finding this to be a really touching and powerful story.
Set in Belfast in 1969, the film follows a working class protestant family, with the film being viewed through the eyes of the youngest son Buddy, with the spectre of The Troubles being an omnipresent element. Through Buddy’s eyes we see the growing tensions within Belfast and the sense of danger that he feels, but there is also a clear sense of nostalgia that Branagh has towards his youth in Belfast that comes through throughout the film. We get an understanding of what helped to inspire Branagh as a filmmaker, showing some of the films of the time that must have made a strong impression on Branagh. There are other little hints towards Branagh’s career, such as Buddy reading a Thor comic and an Agatha Christie book being received as a Christmas present.
The family dynamic throughout the film is very strong. The parents, played by Catriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan feel like a believable couple, we see the struggles they have with bills and taxes and tensions in the relationship with the dad being away in England for weeks at a time and issues over potentially leaving Belfast. The relationship between Buddy and his parents is really well developed, and it does show some of the more negative elements and tensions in the family. There’s also a strong relationship built between Buddy and his grandparents, played by Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench and there are some moments in the film which reminded me of conversations I had with my grandparents. The relationship in the family creates some great lighthearted moments throughout the film and there were quite a few points throughout the film when the audience openly laughed at the comedic moments, with there being more comedic moments that hit here than in quite a lot of comedies. There are also some really touching moments, like the relationship that Buddy has with classmate Catherine and the Christmas experience. These moments create a very real atmosphere throughout the film and throughout you get a feeling that this is what life would have been like for Branagh when he was growing up in Belfast.
The dramatic moments also play well. The film never lets you forget the tensions of The Troubles throughout the film, and there are quite a few moments that were quite frightening to watch, allowing you to see how Branagh must have felt during the violence of The Troubles. There is always the threat of violence throughout the film and you’re never sure if the characters are safe. There isn’t much discussion on the nature of The Troubles, aside from news reports we see on the TV, but that feels right for a film focusing on a child during this time. We understand The Troubles through Buddy’s eyes and, whilst this does create a more simplistic view, it fits for the tone of the film.
The filmmaking is very well done here. The way that colour is used in the film is really solid. The black and white feel gives us an understanding of how Branagh saw different elements of the world at the time, particularly when we see what Buddy is watching on the black and white TV. When colour is used in the film, such as when the family go to the cinema to watch 10 Million Years BC and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the colour of those scenes stands out, particularly in moments when the colour is reflected in Judi Dench’s glasses. The music throughout the film also has a clear sense of nostalgia for Branagh with the way Van Morrison is used. The other music in the film is also very strong, particularly the use of Everlasting Love in the third act.
Overall, I found Belfast to be a really powerful and touching film. This is clearly a personal passion project for Branagh and this personal nature has made it his best film in years. Even with the omnipresent tension of The Troubles, there is a clear sense of nostalgia that Branagh has which makes this a profound viewing experience.
My Rating: 5/5