Belfast review – Kenneth Branagh’s jubilant eulogy for his home city | Movie
THere’s the wonderful warmth and tenderness of Kenneth Branna’s autobiographical elegiac of his childhood Belfast: sweetly written, beautifully acted, and shot in brilliant monochrome, with steady cuts, a Madeleine, and an epiphany that feels like a wetter version of Terence Davies. Some may feel the film is emotional or inadequately aligned with the paradigm of anger and political despair that is appropriate for drama about Northern Ireland and the turmoil. And yes, there’s definitely a spoonful (or two) of sugar in the mix, with some obligatory Van Morrison on the soundtrack. There is a key scene about how to disarm a gunman in the middle of a riot if you don’t have a gun yourself, which you should indulge yourself benevolently.
But this movie has such emotional generosity and intelligence and deals with the often-ununderstood dilemma of times: when, and if, you should pack up and leave Belfast? Is it a matter of understandable survival or giving up your beloved town to extremists? (Full disclosure: My father left Belfast for England, although long before the age of this movie.)
It’s 1969 and Jamie Dornan He plays a man who lives in North Belfast, a largely Protestant area but still with some Catholic families. He is a simple sorcerer, far away in England for a bit during the week, who does skilled carpentry work and is harassed by the need to pay a tax bill.
When his long-suffering wife (Caitríona Balfe) writes to Inland Revenue asking for confirmation that his debt has finally been paid, he prompts the authorities to look into his shadowy affairs and decide he owes another £500. This is a moment so horribly unglamorous and non-cinematic that it definitely has to be taken from real life.
The family includes two sons, the older Will (Louis McCasky) and the younger Buddy, played by newcomer Judd Hill, who sets the tone for his startling lack of understanding. Grandparents live with them under one roof and are played with deceptive sweetness by Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench (The latter tweaks every scene by emptying the men with wise notes from behind her version of Friend of the People.)
Violence erupts when union hard-liners burn Catholics from their homes and erect barricades to protect their new fiefdom from Republican retaliation—gangs requiring payments from local families, enforced by strongman Billy Clanton (Colin Morgan), accepted more or less pragmatically. by local man Frankie West (a gorgeous cameo from Michael Maloney) but resented Dornan’s character. He began showing pamphlets about his wife and children helping immigrants in Vancouver and Sydney: places out of reach of terrorists and the taxman, but they might also appear in Star Trek, which the boys watch on TV every week. And poor friends have to get on with his life, which involves a lot of unrequited nostalgia for a girl in his class.
The film goes with an easy swing from home to street to classroom to pub and back home, perhaps the richest movie when nothing specifically tragic or troublesome happens. I loved the scene in which Buddy learns what he would say if a stranger asked to know if he was a Protestant or Catholic: Is he lying or manipulating the truth? (Dave Allen’s routine was reminded of what happens if you try to sit on the fence and pretend you’re Jewish – the tough guy replies: “Are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?”)
The family gets some escape from reality in the movies: Raquel Welch in her furry bikini million years BC, the flying car flying over the cliff in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and High Noon on TV. There’s a trip to the theater to see a Christmas carol; Delay John Sessions His last performance as Belfast theater actor gives Joseph Tommelty playing the role of Marley’s ghost. But it’s inevitable that Buddy will be drawn to a few dents: cutting a piece of Turkish delight and then getting involved in looting a box of washing powder from a supermarket that hits a riot.
It is not right to say that there is a streak of innocence in this movie’s nightmare, but certainly a streak of normality and even vulgarity, which assumes its own surreal tone. Love letters to the past are always an illusion, and yet this is an alluring piece of legend-making from Pranag.