Director Kenneth Branagh brings a warm reminiscence to his ‘Trouble’-fueled childhood in the late 1960s Northern Ireland.
Belfast has a foreboding, political quality with preteen Buddy (Jude Hill, a surrogate for Branagh) witnessing much unrest in his neighborhood between Protestants and Catholics. Yet, its not that kind of drama, and he use of shimmery monochrome helps to infuse a lighter, jovial mood that the humble auteur mines winningly.
Buddy’s caring Ma (Caitirona Balfe) is concerned about him and older brother Will (Lewis McAskie) not partaking in these skirmishes. What with hard-working PA (Jamie Dorman of Wild Mountain Thyme) out as joiner in England with tax debt lingering over the family. Extended family is around in spritely, charming grandparents endowed by Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench, while the boy is a bit smitten with Olive Tennant’s Catherine.
Tension does arise from a thuggish instigator, Collin Morgan’s Billy Clanton, to join the insurgency against the minority Catholics. However, there’s a calming, non-partisan pacifism within a closely knit clan that eventually reveals an unequivocal affection. The timely, undaunted Pa believes in a relocation to Britain would be best given the harrowing circumstances. While it’s never easy to uproot from an area that has been such an important, impressionable mainstay.
From the outset in full color of present day as a country is still far from idyllic, Branagh affectingly locates the humanity amid diverse, long-standing backgrounds. Little adventures find a larger resonance in Buddy’s milieu as there are nice detours to the cinema (with Raquel Welch in full color in one case) and a nod to the comics as Marvel’s Thor is spotted.
Whaat is genuine and unequivocal for the familial uses the vantage point of Buddy through the expressive, creative Hill. And, understated detail is filled by the notable underlying characters from Dornan and Balfe to Hinds and Dench. Belfast may wear its sentimentally on its sleeve, but there’s still an understated loveliness to a fee-good yearning period picture that isn’t about sweeping bombast.