BELFAST – Review by Susan Granger

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Filmmaker Kenneth Branagh’s poignant cinematic memoir of his childhood in Northern Ireland in 1969 recalls a turbulent period when Catholics and Protestants were at war with one another.

His semi-autobiographical story revolves around nine year-old Buddy (Jude Hill), who lives with his older brother (Lerwis McAskie), parents (Jamie Dornan, Caitrionia Balfe) and grandparents (Ciaran Hinds, Judi Dench). They’re Protestants in a working-class neighborhood that’s also filled with Catholic families.

Then the sectarian riots begin, the barricades go up and British soldiers arrive. Chaos reigns as bewildered Buddy watches his idyllic street become an unruly battleground. During one skirmish, Buddy’s Ma rescues him using a trash can lid as a shield.

As tribalism erupts, Buddy’s Pa is pressured by thuggish Billy Clanton (Colin Morgan) to participate: “Either you’re with us or against us.”

Along with watching Star Trek and classic TV Westerns, the treat that Buddy relishes is the local cinema, where he’s fascinated by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and One Million Years B.C (1966). (Both film clips are in color.)

Meanwhile, Buddy’s debt-riddled parents are debating whether to leave their cherished city at the height of “the Troubles” and resettle in England, where Buddy’s father has a job as a plumber and joiner.

Five-time Oscar-nominated actor/writer/director Kenneth Branagh worked with his longtime cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos to film this tale largely, but not wholly, in black-and-white, ostensibly as homage to street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who captured candid, unguarded moments.

An advantage of being monochromatic is focus – it’s immersive and minimalistic in the actors’ movements. Significantly, Branagh cast two Belfast-born actors – Ciaran Hinds and Jamie Dornan – and he fills the soundtrack with Belfast-born Van Morrison.

Branagh often opts for romanticism over realism, sometimes diluting the effect of the unfolding family drama while reinforcing his empathetic viewpoint.

FYI: If you look closely, Buddy’s reading a “Thor” comic book; Branagh directed the first film adaptation of “Thor.”

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Belfast is a bittersweet, elegiac 8, playing in theaters and streaming on Prime Video.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.