The opening scene in Belfast shows a peaceful neighborhood suddenly erupt into violence. Nine year old Buddy (Jude Hill) is playing down the street, pretending to be a knight, armed with a trash can lid and a wooden sword. As he runs home for tea time, his friendly neighbors call out to him. Then he sees a swarm of angry men turn down his street. Stunned, the boy just stands in the street as chaos happens all around him until his mother drags him inside their home. Inside, he and his older brother take cover under the kitchen table. The boys can see the violence from their front window, as a car explodes right in front of their home. This sets the tone of innocence among violence in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast.
After the initial attack, life continues in the once quiet Irish neighborhood. A check point is established down the street, complete with sandbags, barricades and armed men. Buddy and the children still walk to school. And Buddy’s father (Jamie Dornan) still leaves for weeks at a time for work, often in London. Buddy’s mother (Caitriona Balfe) is left alone to guide her boys through the turbulent times, not an easy task, especially with a few bad influences in the neighborhood. Eventually, the family must ask themselves whether or not to leave Belfast, the only home they’ve ever known.
Prevalent in Buddy’s life are his grandparents, Granny (Judi Dench) and Pop (Ciarán Hinds). The grandparents are a wonderful, slightly cantankerous couple offering wisdom to their grandson and making the audience laugh and cry. They make such a lovely impact in the family’s life that it makes the thought of leaving Belfast unbearable. And they make such a strong impact in the film that both Dench and Hinds earned supporting actor Oscar nominations.
One of my favorite scenes in Belfast takes place in a movie theater. The whole family, Granny included, goes out to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s so sweet and wholesome to see them all lean forward as the flying car takes its first dive off a cliff and then see them singing along together with the movie. It’s a fun and safe escape from all the violence in the streets, grandpa’s fading health and all the turbulence in their lives.
Belfast is currently nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, sound, and original screenplay. Down to Joy by Van Morrison is nominated for original song. Kenneth Branagh is nominated for best director, his second nomination in this category. And as I said previously, Dench and Hinds are both nominated for their supporting roles as the grandparents. I seriously doubt this film will leave empty handed.
Belfast is a beautiful, stirring movie filmed in glorious black and white. It’s Kenneth Branagh’s most personal film, depicting his own time as a child in Belfast. This being such a personal story brings out the innocence, family ties and simple, wholesome heart of this story to the forefront over the turbulence.
“-Be good. And if you can’t be good… –Be careful!”