Belfast Drama

TIFF Review: ‘Belfast’ is a Heartfelt Coming-of-Age Tale and a Loving Ode to Family

November 9, 2021Ben MK

On the big screen, Kenneth Branagh has spent the better part of the last four decades making a name for himself, both as a talented Shakespearean actor and as a thespian of many genres, with some of his most notable roles being Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express, Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. But for his latest film, the aptly titled Belfast, the Irish-born actor-turned-director is going back to his roots, with a semi-autobiographical story based on his childhood growing up in Northern Ireland.

The date is August 15, 1969, and widespread civil unrest has broken out in North Belfast. It's a time that historians would later refer to as the beginning of Ireland's Troubles era — a three-decade-long conflict often characterized by violent disputes between Protestants and Catholics. And for nine-year-old Buddy (Jude Hill), whose parents (Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan) are considering relocating to England, it's a time that he and his older brother Will (Lewis McAskie) will no doubt one day look back on as a pivotal moment in their lives. Even though he's more worried about moving away from the girl he has a crush on at school, Buddy is also acutely aware of the importance of family, thanks to the deep-rooted values instilled in him by his doting grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds). But when the troubles start hitting too close to home, will Buddy and his family be able to stand their ground — or will they be forced to flee their home and make a new one for themselves?

A heartfelt coming-of-age tale, the result isn't so much a fictionalized account of real-life historical events, but rather a loving ode to family near and far. As Branagh himself puts it in Belfast's poignant closing moments, this is a movie "dedicated to those who stayed, those who left, and those who survived." And whether you're Irish, Catholic, Protestant, or any other ethnicity or religion, you're sure to find some relatability in that message.

Belfast screened under the Gala Presentations programme at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival and is in theaters November 12th. Its runtime is 1 hr. 38 min.

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