'Belfast' review: Kenneth Branagh drama is one of the year's best

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Monday, November 15, 2021
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"Belfast" takes a chapter from the history books to tell the story of the fight between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

"Belfast" takes a chapter from the history books to tell the story of the fight between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

The time in the mid-20th century came to be known as "The Troubles," when the conflict between the two sides erupted on the streets of the city of Belfast.

It's a deeply personal film from Sir Kenneth Branagh, the same director who gave us Disney's "Cinderella" and Marvel's "Thor."

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This is a very different sort of project, however, and the remembrance of things past is set in a very specific time and place, written and filmed by one man so compellingly that it will resonate for so many of us.

This, despite the fact "The Troubles" of Northern Ireland were at their worst half a century ago.

Branagh said that his trip back in time began during the early days of the pandemic, when he had time to reflect.

"The lockdown that we were experiencing reminded me vey deeply of the lockdown my family and I experienced when on one hot summer's day in 1969 in the north of Belfast," he said. "A rioting crowd ripped up the street and in a way changed the course of my life forever. And the silence and the introspection that the lockdown brought made me want to see if there was something in that story that could speak to a larger world."

Casting was crucial because, after all, Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan were playing characters based on Branagh's parents.

"I had a very deep understanding of the type of person 'Pa' was," Dornan said. "A sense of the world of which he came."

The actor grew up in Northern Ireland a generation later, while Balfe's father worked as a guard at the border.

Ciarán Hinds, who plays the director's grandfather, grew up half a mile from Branagh but never knew him back then.

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None of this desire for authenticity would mean much without the extraordinary boy at the center of "Belfast."

"I was just sort of going with the flow, actor Jude Hill said. "I was just loving it. I never felt overwhelmed or under pressure, and I think loving what you do really, really helps."

Hill and the other leads are already getting Oscar buzz for the film, which is the best I have seen so far this year.

Most of it was shot in black and white, and the only time we see color is when Hill's character Buddy goes to the movies.

"Belfast" is also a beautiful ode to Branagh's love of film.


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