FOUR AND A HALF STARS A young boy is caught up in Northern Ireland's violent 'troubles' DRAMA UK #BELFAST
Starring Jude Hill, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench
Kenneth Branagh is best known for his canon of Shakespearian works (as actor, director or typically both) and landmark films like HAMLET. He’s also known for seriously cheesy offerings like MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and budget pulp like FRANKENSTEIN or THOR. But for every one of those there’s an acclaimed contemporary film like IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER and his latest, BELFAST. In short, he’s a hard man to pin down.
And a surprising man at that, for hard on the heels of the quite forgettable fantasy of ARTEMIS FOWL he releases BELFAST, an astonishing work that’s led directly to Oscar contention. Filmed, mostly, in black and white it charts the story of a working class family who find themselves in the thick of the troubles when riots break out in Northern Ireland circa 1970. The British government react by building a wall on their street to keep Protestant and Catholics apart. Or is it the other way around? Doesn’t much matter given the wall has no religious sympathy and no mind for how integrated their neighbourhood was and always would be.
All this is viewed through the eyes of young Buddy (Jude Hill), an infectious, lively spark of a boy. His parents (Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan) do their best to keep their family safe, but violence keeps coming until the non-political pair are left with the only sane option. Not that sanity played much of a part on the frontline of this most uncivil war. Buddy’s stay-behind grandparents (Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench) attest to that.
Branagh doesn’t withhold from showing the unholy violence that both parties unleash in Belfast, yet against the odds he has crafted an unexpectedly uplifting yarn without a trace of mawkish sentiment. Subscribing to the adage - write what you know - has clearly paid off. This is a deeply personal story (Branagh was born in Belfast and witnessed events first hand before moving to England aged 9) and his affection for a time lost in time is felt in every frame.
BELFAST is a resounding success due, in part, to the casting of newcomer Jude Hill. He’s sensational. So too are the rest of the cast in support of the lad; they give him room to breath and give us the space to take in their close-knit world. Supporting all of that is the eye-catching cinematography of Branagh’s frequent collaborator Haris Zambarloukos as he artfully frames a finely tuned screenplay, one that builds a sympathetic and tender memoir of a community ravaged by hostility, and a people who found the courage to push through. It tugs at your heart strings in that most welcome way. Imagine , this from the man who gave us CINDERELLA.