Now that the calendar is firmly planted in the middle of November Oscar season is upon us. Films that will get academy award consideration are lining up to be released for next years ceremony. Several films have already come out over the summer that should get nominated that have made a lasting impression (at least on me, fingers crossed. Nothing would please me more than to see Nicholas Cage and or Pig get nominated) on the year that all the delayed films attempted to squeeze in with the Covid-19 pandemic shutting down productions last year. But for the contenders that will get the most consideration, their time is now – starting with Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast.
Belfast will undoubtedly be a best picture contender next year – it’s that well made from the writer/director. A semi-autobiographical story that follows a working-class family during “The Troubles” in Belfast, Ireland in 1969 to 1970. At the center of this working-class family is Buddy (Jude Hill) as we experience life and childhood through his eyes. Amidst a growing conflict externally between Protestants and Catholics and internally between his Ma (Caitríona Balfe) and his Pa (Jamie Dornan), Buddy finds himself at the center of both colliding worlds.
Shot in black and white, Branagh creates a somber atmosphere that shines moments of hope throughout the 97-minute runtime. That hope comes in the form of the minimal use of color – representing an escapism for the family. The only color used when the family are watching movies in a theater. Other members include Granny (Judi Dench), Pop (Ciarán Hinds) and Buddy’s older brother Will (Lewis McAskie).
Buddy is the heart and soul of the family as well as Jude Hill is the heart and soul of the film. While all performances are well acted from top to bottom, Jude stands out the most with his child-like wonder and innocence. Branagh captures the innocence of Buddy the most – the main theme of the film (mostly because its semi-autobiographical) in both a positive and negative way. Positive being, living and playing carefree safely on the streets, sparking a friendship with Catherine (Olive Tennant) in school to the negative of bad influence by Moira (Lara McDonnell) pushing him to steal a candy bar (that he doesn’t even like) and then attend a riot started by Protestants. Buddy also thematically represents hope for the future which is instilled by his Pa. A person’s religion shouldn’t matter if they are a good person.
That lesson Pa teaches Buddy can be examined in society today. Race, religion, and sexual orientation should not matter to anyone but to extremists like Billy Clanton (Colin Morgan) it does. Although one character, he represents an entire group of people along with serving the purpose of the antagonist in Branagh’s film.
Relationships between family members serves this stories foundation. From the outside looking in, the appearance of a happy family but when the layers are peeled back, there’s conflict. Conflict between Ma and Pa happen over work and financial trouble, escaping the harsh, unpredictable conditions of religious prejudice and impending “war”, and how to raise their children with negative outside influence.
With all the good, the bad and the ugly happening on their small block in Belfast, Ma and Pa still make their relationship work, though its far from perfect. But that’s love and its exceptionally shown from different perspectives, and that’s what Branagh highlights the most. Ma and Pa deciding whats best for their family’s future – being a life away from Belfast, the only home they’ve ever known. But if peace is an option, there should be no reason to decide against it.
Belfast is a celebration of life and hope for the future. Led by an endearing performance by newcomer Jude Hill writer/director Kenneth Branagh brings a beautiful and tragic story to life that can be comparable to society today. A strong use of Black and white with minimal color, strong thematic elements of religion, family friendship and Love, Belfast will absolutely be an Academy Awards contender. It’s sweet, funny, charming, and disturbing (mostly by people’s discrimination towards others based on their religious views and practices). Buddy is a character that we can all relate to – perfectly defining the word innocence.
One minor detail I enjoyed the most from this film is an easter egg by Branagh where Buddy reads a Thor comic. Well played Kenneth, well played.
a quick film that moves well from scene to scene, Belfast is poetic – a love letter to childhood while exposing the dangers of predudice and the easy infulence on a gullible child.
Written By: Kenneth Branagh
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Music By: Van Morrison
Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos
Starring: Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan. Jude Hill
Release Date: November 12, 2021
Running Time: I Hour 37 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
My Score: 4 out of 5.