By Alexandra Rosbotham – Arts and Entertainment Editor
Last weekend Kenneth Branagh‘s “Belfast” finally made its debut on its hometown cinema screens a couple months after its premiere at the Belfast Film Festival back in November.
“Belfast” is a childhood memoir of Branagh’s own upbringing and experiences living through The Troubles. It finds young Buddy played by nine year old Jude Hill and his family living in Belfast in the late 60’s as The Troubles begins to rear its head, with tensions building and civil unrest beginning breaking out across the city. Buddy lives with Ma (Catriona Balfe), Pa (Jamie Dornan) and his brother Will (Lewis McAskie), with his father a labourer working in England. Buddy’s parents are driven by The Troubles to make the toughest decision of their lives; whether to stay in Belfast with everything they’ve ever known, or leave for a new life elsewhere for the good of their children.
Although set in a tumultuous time that was only the beginning of a three decade long conflict, “Belfast” isn’t exclusively about the Troubles. Often with films about Northern Ireland, it is very difficult to avoid the topic of The Troubles without it engulfing the rest of the film and it’s plot; rehashing a story that has been told countless times before. This is where Belfast gives a fresh perspective for films about NI. It doesn’t deny that it’s about The Troubles, as it comes part and parcel with Belfast’s history, but it also doesn’t make up the entire narrative. “Belfast” is exemplary in what we should strive to achieve when making films about NI and The Troubles, striking a perfect balance in its content, ensuring it is much more than just another film about The Troubles. With the direct discussion of the heavy topics associated with The Troubles (e.g. violence, religion, politics) being kept to a minimum, it allows these to provide an informed backdrop to Buddy’s world and childhood ignorance without it encroaching and becoming too heavy in the way many films of this topic do.
The cinematography throughout is beautiful, only further enhancing the childhood perspective with low, canted angles and is shot with a childlike perspective in mind. The black and white colour palette intensifies the violence and destruction and is contrasted beautifully with short bursts of colour perfectly illustrating the childhood wonder and awe of the cinema and theatre that is sprinkled in throughout the film. “Belfast” at times is wonderfully comedic and light-hearted, but is also a guaranteed tearjerker multiple times throughout in the most sincere ways. This is a film best watched and not read about, and I hope that people from Northern Ireland will watch and appreciate such an honest retelling of Branagh’s experience and are open this new perspective offered on such a turbulent and terrible time in NI’s past.