The glinting silver off the Titanic Quarters, the sweeping green of Cave Hill, the bouncing yellow of the Harland & Wolff cranes steadily roll onto the screen, like a high budget Northern Irish tourist board ad. Suddenly we are confronted with a black and white 1969. In some ways, it’s an audacious storytelling move, switching from the colourful, quiet and observational to the stark, loud perspective of a young boy. And yet it is what we have come to expect from the brash tone and unwieldy earnestness of Kenneth Branagh’s filmography. 

Belfast is a deeply personal story, clearly traced from the shadows of Branagh’s own childhood. Everything feels sweeping and dramatic, big in the way the world can feel when you are constantly peering up. Unfortunately, this wide-eyed childishness means painting the finest nuances in this long civil war with broad strokes. Even the vernacular feels flat and performative, designed to be heard by an English audience rather than understood by a Northern Irish one. 

Caitriona Balfe shines with a winning sincerity while Jamie Dornan is tasked with the unenviable task of being the comparably staunch sounding board for the hoard of child actors. Indeed, every adult is reserved in light of the frequently over-directed Jude Hill. 

Living in Belfast in the 60’s meant that identity, family, heritage and politics were unforgivingly enmeshed, bolted together. Belfast only succeeds as a depoliticised family drama, an insular look at familiar dynamics. In its best moments it embraces the security and pain found in intergenerational love, with Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds playing the archetypal curmudgeonly Irish grandparents. 

If Belfast were a film about any other time or any other place, its sweetness could be enough to buoy this exercise in cinematic remembering, unfortunately it flattens this moment in history into a directorial nostalgia trip.

RATING: 2/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Jude Hill

DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh

WRITER: Kenneth Branagh

SYNOPSIS: A young boy grows up in a politically turbulent 1960’s Belfast.