Belfast is one of 2021’s late entries as an awards season hopeful. It is written, directed and produced by Kenneth Branagh and obviously a labour of love for him as it is inspired by his own childhood memory of life in Belfast during the turbulent days of the 1960’s. Since its release, it has been generally well received by critics.
However, for me, this is a test of patience despite its mercifully short running time of just over an hour and a half. Watching this is like watching the private home videos of a family. There is poor story structure, and just a collection of events and scenes during the days when Belfast experienced the beginnings of the violent conflicts in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and Catholics. What I was mostly disappointed in was that the film did very little to enlighten the viewer about the background of the conflicts and violence which formed an intricate backdrop to the story. We bear witness to the turmoil that a family had to endure during these times mostly seen through the eyes of its young wide-eyed lead character, Buddy (whom we can presume is very much the young Kenneth Branagh when he was staying there). This simplistic and abstract approach may work well for those familiar with the history but for the less knowledgeable this becomes merely a background noise.
The best thing going for the movie is in its art direction. Filming the film mostly in black and white works well to create the nostalgic and grim period, and Kenneth Branagh had many opportunities to frame his images beautifully and artistically. However, after awhile these felt staged and contrived, rather than being symbiotically linked to the story and characters. The acting overall may feel authentic but I just could not feel myself invested in any of their personalities. Not even the great Judi Dench (looking majestically wrinkled in black and white) as the grand mother, could save the film from its boring tone.
Van Morrison the Northern Irish singer is prominently featured throughout the movies’ soundtrack but unfortunately I am not a fan of his music so sadly not even the film’s nostalgic soundtrack helped elevate it from its drag.
Belfast is not for me. However, that does not necessarily mean you may not like it either. You may find lots of things to appreciate here particularly if you have an interest in anything relating to Northern Ireland. Don’t expect any history lesson to be taught here though as it works more like a snippet in the lives of a small family over a brief period of time. All the history and details are represented in an abstract and narrowly focused scale.