Continuing the countdown of my favorite 2021 movies…
Best Films of 2021
#6 – Belfast
Kenneth Branagh’s filmography as a director is split almost down the middle between high-brow literary adaptations (particularly Shakespeare) and high-budget popcorn fare.
The same man who gave us definitive takes on Henry V and Hamlet is responsible for Thor and Artemis Fowl.
But his Belfast is something completely different. This is an achingly personal film, a romanticized depiction of his early years in Northern Ireland before his family escaped The Troubles to settle in England.
Told through the eyes of 9-year-old Protestant Buddy (Jude Hill), the film depicts the violence visited upon Catholics by Protestant loyalists and the pressure on his father to join the cause. Buddy is aware of this struggle, but just as concerned about winning the affection of a girl in his class, or learning from his grandfather (Ciaran Hinds) how to fudge his math answers.
Buddy’s parents, played by the impossibly gorgeous Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe, want what’s best for the family but can’t bring themselves to leave the only home they’ve ever known.
Belfast is as simple and profound as that. Despite some heavy subject matter, it is sweet and very funny, lingering on the moments of grace that would stick in the memory of a boy surrounded by people who love him.
This is a beautiful story about what it means to love a place, and what it takes to leave it.
This recent interview of Branagh by Bill Maher was very insightful about the movie: https://youtu.be/jpSoMuVri4A
It was impossible not to view every film I’ve seen recently through the prism of what’s happening in Ukraine, and this one is no different. Much like Diary of Anne Frank or Life Is Beautiful, when the perspective on events swirling around, no matter how horrific, belongs to a child, the results are often sweeter and, therefore, achingly poignant.
In a recent interview, Branagh referenced those moments of dancing and joy that one holds on to amidst the darker moments you’d rather forget. When I saw images of children watching Aladdin in a subway station/makeshift shelter in Ukraine, I thought of how parents will do all they can to preserve their children’s innocence as long as possible. A truly special film that captures that impulse shared by parents everywhere.
Beautifully said Amy. Also I agree with Dana that the Maher interview was wonderful. I loved this movie for all the reasons you mentioned in your blog. Hope it wins some Oscars.