by Chloe Sun ‘24
Published Feb. 4th, 2022
Finding itself lavished with awards and nominations this 2021 award season, the heartwarming comedy-drama film Belfast is a work of art worthy of your time. It is simple and short in concept, yet warmly tender and nostalgic in execution, a prime example of welldone storytelling in film.
Based on director Kenneth Branagh’s childhood experiences, Belfast takes place in late 1960s Northern Ireland, particularly in its then-troubled capital, Belfast—hence the movie title. Around this time, the tension between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland was finally reaching its peak, and violent riots erupted across the country.
Belfast especially suffered as radical Protestant gangs began burning local Catholic households, and with such threats looming over the townsfolk, our scene is set. From here, we follow protagonist Buddy and his working class Protestant family in Belfast 15 as they struggle to adjust to these unexpected tumults, straining to make ends meet, yet persevering alongside their community.
Branagh came up with the idea for Belfast during the COVID lockdown, calling it a “small, intimate project”. The film’s runtime reflects this claim, clocking in at short and sweet 1 hour and 38 minutes without dragging on. Branagh then achieves “intimacy” with his various filming decisions, such as shooting Belfast almost entirely in black-and-white, painting a historic glaze over the movie and mimicking 1900s film tapes.
Branagh does not rely much on VFX besides the bare minimum, as to keep the film grounded and realistic for the audience. He and his team went for a simple and refrained cinematography this time, with the camera angles being the only large, noticeably tempered element. Belfast took full advantage of camera angles for perspective storytelling. For instance, when Buddy’s Pa shields him from a beckoning gangster, the camera cuts to a ground-level shot angled up towards Pa, framing him in a heroic posture and illustrating the admiration Buddy has for his Pa.
Belfast also could not have been as great an experience without its talented cast, all of whom recounted jovial experiences filming, complete with several soccer intermissions between takes. In particular, Jude Hall received much deserved praise for his fantastic job playing as Buddy. The eleven year old actor sold the performance with his childish charm, marking the debut of his acting career.
Belfast is a simple, honest film you do not need to love history to enjoy. Rather than offering historic retellings, Belfast immerses you first in its sincere characters, and then through their bonds, you may gradually find the atmosphere of their bustling community take hold of you. The city of old Belfast, that nostalgia—it will unfold itself right before your eyes.