Writer/Director Sir Kenneth Branagh carries us through some delightful childhood memories in the film Belfast. The setting is mostly an intimate, single street that is home to families that know each other and take care of one another. Through the optimistic eyes of Buddy (Jude Hill), we watch a working-class Protestant family navigate their ordinary lives during the time of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Buddy is a charming, magnetic young boy who is observing a changing world around him. Hill’s performance is natural and deserving of recognition. There are many kind and memorable moments he shares, especially with Granny (Judi Dench) and Pop (Clarán Hinds). It’s delightful to think about the things our parents or grandparents “always said.” For example, my grandmother always told me to “add elbow grease” to help clean a pan. She probably only said it to me once; but I remember it as a part of her.
Caitríona Balfe (Ma) comes through as a strong and present force. She is protective as a mother and still full of joy for life. Scenes with her are both touching and spirited, as she bonds her family together.
The cinematography is beautiful, framed with wonderful shadows and light. There are many creative angles from a youthful perspective. Teacups are carefully placed, symbolizing security in a steady routine. The film is mostly black and white with a few slates of color saved for creative performances. It made me think about how we look back on memories of seeing a play or a film and how striking that event can be. As if to separate from the overlooked “normal” world around us, these experiences are remembered in vibrant color.
The film is full of nostalgia – revisiting the songs and the movies that were a part of the time. It is very heavy on Van Morrison. Buddy has little understanding of the politics, but a keen sense of the weight that surrounds his family and neighborhood. He’s also very aware of the empty space his father (Jamie Dornan) creates, and fills it with imagination, longing, and first love.
Belfast has just the right touch of sentimentality, without being too sappy. It’s a beautiful reflection of the people, places, and events that shape us in the formative years. I’m looking forward to seeing Jude Hill on the red carpet, along with Branagh.