Belfast: Yet Another Review

Belfast: Yet Another Review

Belfast. By Nick Boyd.

“Belfast” is an evocatively done exploration of a nine-year-old Protestant boy’s childhood growing up in Northern Ireland in 1969.   As the Catholics and Protestants are at war with each other in the conflict known as “the Troubles,” young Buddy, who lives with his mom, dad, older brother, and grandparents, views the world with innocence and hopefulness.  He delights in playing in the working class streets and exploring his surroundings and even has a crush on the pretty girl in school whose family is Catholic.

Buddy’s father works in England to pay off mounting debts as a joiner, a skilled laborer, and comes home to see his family on the weekends, leaving much of the work of raising Buddy and his older brother to his mother.  The father is a pacifist and tries to impart that stance on his family, even as strong Protestant supporters in the neighborhood try to get the father to join their cause, in their efforts to rid the area of Catholics.  These staunch Protestant supporters are not above looting shops and roughing people up in the streets.

As the situation between the two sides intensifies, Buddy’s father thinks it would be a good idea for the family to move to England where he works or even to Sydney or Vancouver.  Somewhere safer with a better home situation.  Buddy’s mother, however, is reluctant to go along with the idea because she feels that it would be taking them away from an environment that they have always known and would be particularly difficult for the kids to leave their beloved Belfast.

The film is done primarily in black-and-white, with the exceptions being footage of contemporary Belfast at the very beginning, a theater performance of “A Christmas Carol,” and when Buddy is watching “One Million Years B.C.” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” with his family in a movie theater and the screen suddenly colorizes.  These movie and theater scenes give us a glimpse into Branagh’s love of movies/theater and his future career as a filmmaker.  I found the black-and-white stark look to be an effective approach as it seems to underline the bleak predicament at hand.

The performances in the film are winning and the writing is strong with the insights provided by the grandparents, especially impactful, with just the right mix of humor and wittiness.  With a sentimental, yet uncompromising touch, director Kenneth Branagh shows what it was like for him as a boy during this turbulent and nostalgic time in Belfast.

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