Belfast is a 2021 black-and-white coming of age comedy-drama film written and directed by Kenneth Branagh. It is a movie straight from Branagh’s own experience. A nine-year-old boy must chart a path towards adulthood through a world that has suddenly turned upside down. His stable and loving community and everything he thought he understood about life is changed forever but joy, laughter, music and the formative magic of the movies remain. The film stars Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, and newcomer Jude Hill. The film, which Branagh has described as his “most personal film,” centers on a young boy’s childhood amidst the tumult of Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the 1960s.
KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Abigail L. comments, “Belfast is the equivalent of a stormy, rainy day, creating a perfect calm-before-the-storm kind of feeling. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, this family story is a tasteful, bittersweet masterpiece.” Samantha B. adds, “Belfast shows how a talented child actor, the use of black and white film and a powerful emotional story can make an independent film pack a powerful punch. The heart of Belfast is the lead character, Buddy (Jude Hill). I like how we see the story through his eyes. The black and white photography and close-up camera angles also highlight the joy and terror of Buddy’s neighborhood in 1969 when religious tensions explode.” See their full reviews below.
By Abigail L., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17
Belfast is the equivalent of a stormy, rainy day, creating a perfect calm-before-the-storm kind of feeling. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, this family story is a tasteful, bittersweet masterpiece.
Set in a small neighborhood in Northern Ireland during the late 1960s, Buddy (Jude Hill), a young boy from a small-town family, experiences life in tumultuous times. As religious tensions between the tight-knit community members grow, his family dodges shady neighbors and argues the question of moving out of Belfast while Buddy tries to ace his time tables. Belonging to the struggling working class, Buddy’s father (Jamie Dornan) often travels for weeks at a time leaving him and his older brother (Lewis McAskie) to explore Belfast on their own. However, their father and mother (Caitriona Balfe) are always there to protect them when danger comes their way.
Four things really stand out to me watching this film. First, the use of black and white with some color is really outstanding. It creates a sense of nostalgia and the few choice moments with color helps those scenes stand out. Second, the sound is absolutely fantastic. In every scene, there is a sound effect that enhances it, it’s the sound of rain, fire, or a buzzing television. The quality of the sound effects is astounding, adding another layer of engagement when watching this film. Third, the acting is especially impressive. Young talent Jude Hilly, especially, is quite a star and steals the show. I also love the talent of Caitriona Balfe, who masters the strength and emotion of a mother. Lastly, every scene is very intimate; the camera is always up and close to the action and the family, making audiences feel closer to the main characters.
Kenneth Branagh’s film, based on a true story from his own childhood, touches audiences’ hearts with an intimate view of family and the struggles of the working class. Parents should be aware there is some profanity, mention of religion, aggression and minor violence.
I rate Belfast 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 14 to 18, plus adults. This film opens in theaters November 12, 2021.
By Samantha B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12
Belfast shows how a talented child actor, the use of black and white film and a powerful emotional story can make an independent film pack a powerful punch. The heart of Belfast is the lead character, Buddy (Jude Hill). I like how we see the story through his eyes. The black and white photography and close-up camera angles also highlight the joy and terror of Buddy’s neighborhood in 1969 when religious tensions explode.
Belfast was inspired by director Kenneth Branagh’s childhood in Belfast, Ireland, in the late 1960s. We meet Buddy, his older brother, his parents, grandparents and the neighborhood where everyone knows everyone, kids play safely in the streets and residents may not have much money but are happy. This reality is quickly shattered when violence breaks out between Protestants and Catholics, pitting the once friendly neighbors against each other. Buddy’s parents have to make a difficult choice about whether to stay or go.
In addition to a standout performance from Jude Hill as Buddy, I love the character of Ma (Caitriona Balfe). You feel the agony of her decision about whether to move the family out of Belfast. I also love the grandparents (Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds). Their love for each other is so genuine. I also enjoyed the music in the film, which is by Irish singer Van Morrison. The sound design for the violent scenes is very powerful and creates a lot of tension. In addition, the film shows how going to the movies was a way for Buddy and his family to escape the growing violence. Finally, the period details bring Belfast to life, especially the red bus from the late 60s that appears in so many scenes like when Buddy’s Pa comes and goes every two weeks from his job in England.
The main message of Belfast is that being a good person is more important than what religion you are. Also, it addresses the importance of family and community and how sometimes change is hard, but necessary. Be aware that the film contains some profanity, gambling, fighting and gang violence but also promotes positive behavior with great role models who stand up for what is right.
I give Belfast 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. I left this movie smiling, and I think you will, too. Belfast opens in select theaters on November 12, 2021.
Keywords: Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Jude Hill, Kenneth Branagh, Laur Berwick, Becca Kovacik, Tamar Thomas, Harris Zambarloukos, Una Ni Dhonghaile, Van Morrison, Northern Ireland Screen, Focus Features, Universal Pictures,