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Review: ‘Belfast,’ Snapshots That Resonate 

Where did you grow up? Do you still live in your hometown? 

Many were born in this area and have never left. Others of us, including myself, moved here from other parts of the country, while still others fled unsafe regions of the world and have settled in North Texas. Whatever the case, we probably all still yearn to experience fond memories from our youth, to recall and reminisce. From my own experience, this is especially true as we grow older. 

Filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, rapidly approaching 61 years of age, has now turned his attention to his own youth. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he and his family fled to greener, safer pastures as ‘The Troubles’ in his native land reached a boiling point in 1969. 

Framed as a tribute, his latest film, Belfast, presents its story from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy in that tumultuous year. The beguiling Buddy (Jude Hill) happily wanders through his neighborhood on his way home; everyone knows everyone else in the tight-knit community, and shares similar values. 

Or so it would seem, except that The Troubles quickly come home and Buddy’s world is sent spinning. 

As a filmmaker, Kenneth Branagh has built a reputation based on his screen adaptations of stage plays by Shakespeare (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, As You Like It) or influenced by Shakespeare (A Midwinter’s Tale, All Is True), as well as plays and novels by other writers (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Sleuth, Murder on the Orient Express). His productions for major studios (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella, Artemis Fowl) reflect the work of a journeyman, rather than an auteur. 

Shot by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who has been working with Branagh since Sleuth, and presented in black and white, Belfast marks a fitting departure in style for the filmmaker, calling to mind some of his earlier films in the 1990s. By making a young boy the protagonist, and capturing the narrative from his perspective, Branagh allows the viewer’s knowledge and general assumptions about the period to fill in any blanks. Anything that is left vague and imprecise can be safely attributed to Buddy’s youth. 

From his vantage point, it’s easier to soak in the churning and chaotic atmosphere that is all that the boy has known all his life. It only becomes more important to him when he realizes that his older brother Will (Lewis McAskie) and his parents (Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan), referred to only as Ma and Pa, are quite rightly anxious and concerned about the effect that The Troubles are having upon their children. 

Meanwhile, Buddy enjoys spending time with his loving grandparents (Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds) and his cousins. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a body part blown off, so to speak, prompting Buddy to snap to attention and come to the recognition that somehow, in some way, his entire world is about to shift on its axis. 

Until that point arrives, Belfast is a marvelously-accomplished, resonant snapshot of a moment in time that is gone forever, but not forgotten. Every immigrant will see something of themselves in the story. I imagine every native who has never left will see something familiar too. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, November 12, via Focus Features. For more information about the film, visit the official site.