Skip to content

#TIFF21 Review: Belfast (Gala Presentations)

September 18, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is the filmmaker’s bittersweet cinematic memoir of growing up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. The story begins in the year 1969, and follows a young boy named Buddy (Jude Hill), a stand-in for Branagh, who lives on a mostly Protestant street in Belfast where the few Catholic families are being violently targeted.

The street will soon be barricaded off, with checkpoints for coming and going. This provides a tense backdrop for Buddy’s more typical boyhood problems, as he pines after a classmate and tries to do better in school, but gets caught up in trouble. The story itself might feel a bit slight in parts, but Branagh’s film is packed with heart and features a number of finely textured performances.

Jamie Dornan has never been better as Pa, Buddy’s father who is often away for work in England and is struggling to support his family, but manages to put on a brave face without being overly stoic. Caitriona Balfe is quietly heartbreaking as Ma, who is trying her best to make do with what they’ve got, but has her hands full trying to hold the family together. Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds also deliver charming and moving performance as Granny and Pop, Buddy’s grandparents who often watch him in the afternoon and offer sage advice on life and relationships.

At the centre of it all is newcomer Jude Hill, offering a captivating portrayal of a boy unwittingly growing up in the middle of a Civil War who would rather be escaping into the fantasy of TV Westerns and much anticipated trips to the movie theatre. Drawn from memories, Branagh’s screenplay strikes a good balance between gentle humour and piercing human drama, with some commentary on religion and sectarian differences. The film functions as a sort of child’s eye view of The Troubles in this way, with Buddy questioning what the difference even is between a Protestant and a Catholic.

The film is gorgeously captured in black-and-white by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, with a few magical splashes of colour. This includes the opening shots flying over modern day Belfast, which then seamlessly transition into the black and white of the past. It’s a sort of reverse Wizard of Oz effect that works beautifully, matched quite nicely by one of the very good Van Morrison songs that provide the backdrop for the film. We then go into an incredibly well shot sequence that follows Buddy running through the street as violence erupts, the camera spinning 360 degrees around him.

Branagh’s Belfast ultimately works as a good, old fashioned family drama that tells a simple yet effective story, brought to life through excellent performances and some lovely images. The story ends on a very poignant note, resonating with the bittersweet sense of nostalgia that comes to define the film, which I’m sure will only grow on repeat viewings.

Public Screenings:

Sunday, September 12th – 5:30 PM at Roy Thomson Hall

Monday, September 13th – 3:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

Thursday, September 16th – 12:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: