Kenneth Branagh’s memoir takes you to another place all the while telling you that place is important. Leaving can give one perspective, but the “can’t take Belfast out of the boy” often rings merely sentimental. The warmth of extended family is what one comes away with.
“Belfast” shows ” the Troubles” in stark black and white: Protestant and Catholic, a working class street divided. Yet, the film’s end vibrates with “Cherrio” —all will be well. If one can follow the impressions and the directions of the nine-year-old Buddy, nostalgia and sentimentality are yours. And who couldn’t skip over cobbles with the adorable Jude Hill ! Hill plays the nine-year-old Branagh to Oscar contender fame, but then so does the unconquerable Judi Dench, and the exquisite Ciarán Hinds; and, Caitríona Balfe and Jami Dornan shatter the screen with perfect character performances.
Jude Hill plays Buddy to the hilt. He is ready to learn, woo that first girl friend, and slay dragons. What impresses him, impresses us. The hell and brimstone sermon of his Protestant minister, the adults that all speak to him on the street, his Gramps betting horses while sitting on the outside toilet, and his Da’s bi-monthly return from joiner work in London. Clashes, tanks, curfews, barricades, and double bluffs are part of a Belfast life. Primary school, with seating charts according to scores, and advice on girls and slogans like “ If you can’t be good, be careful” punctuate the scenes. Snippets from movies like “High Noon” with its theme song “ Do Not Forsake Me ,Oh My Darling” and “ Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” add to the grade-school-age clime.
Initially, “Belfast” employs colorful, present day, architectural stills of the city to set what a visiting native might recall: the Titanic Hotel, bright yellow Harland and Wolf shipyard cranes, and colorful graffiti splashed buildings. A ship- building port city on the River Lagan, Belfast erected the Titanic. Nods to rope-making and linen weaving are here, too. Black, white and gradations of grey take control of the cinematography, and the film’s focus is on family life in those interface areas where Catholics and Protestants reside. We see those caps of the Peaky Blinders and the lace curtains of the Irish windows. We are in August 15, 1969.
Truisms like “ Too long a sacrifice can leave a stone in the heart” play well in “ Belfast”. The contrasting dancing and singing of “Everlasting Love” hits the right chord. This is Kenneth Branagh’s homage to the generations of Northern Irelanders, those who stayed, those who left, and those who were lost. The jazz sax plays for even vegetarian Anti-Christs in this film. Enjoy the vibe.