By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

When filmmakers choose to tell their personal stories from childhood, this often makes for compelling cinema. Such is the case with Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. Branagh, who was born and partially raised in Ireland, eventually moved to England with his family as a child, due to the turbulent and violent climate that existed in Ireland due to the fiery relations between the Irish Catholics and Protestants. Though Belfast isn’t exactly a completely true biographical story about his life, this fictionalized portrait does paint a rather riveting picture and time capsule of the 1960s which obviously had a profound impact on his life.

The movie focuses on a humble, working class family living in Belfast, Ireland during the 1960s. The main protagonist is Buddy (Jude Hill), a hopeful and mostly happy Irish child who has a mostly positive and joyful outlook on life. This is no easy feat, given that, during this era, relations between the Protestants and Catholics have come to a very violent head, making his life in his town rather explosive and treacherous. His loving, but often absent (due to seeking out lucrative work) father (Jamie Dornan) struggles to maintain a mostly peaceful home for his wife, sons, and elderly parents (Dame Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds), despite the pressures of his more radical Protestant acquaintences who continuously demand him to take a more active role in the violence and terrorism they inflict on the Catholic people simply desiring equality and happiness.

Mixing comedy and drama, writer/director Branagh succeeds in recreating a dramatic and stormy era in Irish history. There is a certain level of predictability in the film; however, despite this minor issue, Belfast nevertheless manages to maintain its urgency and tension, while offering heartwarming and amusing entertainment in its process. Shot mostly in black and white, the cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos looks beautiful, with splashes of glorious colors that represent the more hopeful fantasy of cinema and fiction. It is these glimpses into what can be and that which truly exists that certainly inspire Buddy, and have unmistakably inspired Branagh to pursue his career in entertainment.

Belfast definitely displays some exceptional performances by its more experienced and talented cast, but it is the remarkable acting of young Jude Hill that really helps the film hit its audiences in the heart. In addition to Hill, Hinds, Dench, and Dornan, another exception turn comes from actor Caitríona Balfe who portrays the mother of Buddy’s family. I sincerely believe that Hill, Hinds, and Balfe should receive some recognition through award nominations next year.

After watching the movie, I discussed my reaction with friends and associates and described the film as Kenneth Branagh’s Roma. Roma, which was loosely based on the childhood of filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, tells a similar story, but with a style more his own. Even though Belfast isn’t quite as remarkable or amazing a movie as Roma, I still feel that it is a great movie which will hit audience in all of the feels.

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