Belfast is a bittersweet look at a Northern Irish boyhood, Latest Movies News - The New Paper

Belfast is a bittersweet look at a Northern Irish boyhood

Many autobiographical movies spring from the film-maker's desire to explain the past to themselves. It is a form of art therapy - some might call it exorcism - that can result in excellent films.

In Singaporean director Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo (2013) and Mexican director's Alfonso Cuaron's Oscar-winning Roma (2018), the film-makers look at their parents sympathetically - through lenses that can now see what they were going through.

British actor and director Kenneth Branagh - who has built a career deploying his perfect received pronunciation in films such as the Shakespeare adaptations Henry V (1989) and Hamlet (1996) - reveals a boyhood spent across the water, in the Northern Irish city of the film's title.

It is 1969 and Buddy (Jude Hill), nine, is the youngest in a financially strapped Protestant family. Pa (Jamie Dornan) has a job in England, so he is away most of the time. Ma (Caitriona Balfe) is left to run daily affairs by herself, as sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics rages in the street.

Unlike Cuaron or Chen, who turned their stories into dramas, Branagh's film, which he also wrote, is a drama-comedy.

He handles it with typical finesse. There are bleak jokes about patriots who in reality seek an outlet for their hate, as well as rueful observations about being born in a land that drives so many of its people away - to places where, as Buddy observes, their accents will be mocked.

It is a cheeky reference to Branagh's own transformation - from bullied Northern Irish immigrant to quintessentially English actor.

This is a warm, approachable story, with strong comedic beats and a Hollywood-style relatability reinforced by the use of songs from Northern Irish rock icon Van Morrison.

Screenings in Singapore will carry English subtitles as the accents, as mentioned, are thick.

Belfast is rated PG13 and opens here Feb 3.

4/5 stars


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