“Belfast” joins “Coda” as the two best pictures of 2021.
Kenneth Branagh brings us a semi-autobiographical film that is warm and enduring at every turn. It centers on his life in 1969 as a youngster when Northern Ireland was being torn apart by religious tension.
You watch a hard-working couple, referred to as Pa and Ma, raising two sons, trying to make sense out of their neighborhood being ravaged by gangs seeking to force Catholics to pack up and leave. Ma and Pa, both Protestants, watch in horror as windows are smashed in homes as thugs they know march through the streets. Tanks and soldiers soon follow.
The family is in debt and Pa seeks to move to London where he works. Ma, surrounded by parents and friends, hates the thought of saying goodbye to the small community that embraces the meaning of home.
But the strength of this movie, filmed in black and white, centers on the emotional fact that Branagh tells a version of his own family story, nothing more or less. All of the actors are Irish, and Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe will capture your heart as Pa and Ma. In particular, Ms. Balfe gives an Oscar worthy performance as a mother wanting to protect both her family and community.
But other Oscar level performances come from grandparents played by Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds along with the heart capturing turn by Jude Hill as their 9 year old grandson known as Buddy.
Both Dench and Hinds will leave you laughing as you are forced to wipe away tears. And Hill’s Buddy is an obvious recreation of Mr. Branagh. Watch him dodge rocks and pipe bombs while running with a garbage lid while trying to make a blonde female classmate pay attention to him.
I also found Branagh’s use of old American Westerns like “High Noon” (1952) to have meaning, along with a musical score that included a touching song by Van Morrison. Who can ever forget this 1967 hit, “Brown Eyed Girl“?
This film is likely to land several Oscar nominations. It is a great movie.