Thursday, November 11, 2021

'Belfast' bursts with life, family relationships, war and, oh, so much more

The damndest things might come out of a pandemic, including a few good ones, such as Kenneth Branagh's very personal and brilliant "Belfast." The writer/director said as much last September when he told a thrilled audience at the 46th annual Toronto International Film Festival that he began the screenplay process for his semi-autobiographical tale during the coronavirus quarantine and after an examination of the "precious things" in his life. 

The result -- charming and moving and mostly filmed in glorious black and white -- follows a marvelous working-class family in Northern Ireland, circa 1969, balancing the thick with mostly thin of their wartorn country. In the middle of it all is 9-year-old Buddy (the terrific Jude Hill, looking and acting very much like a miniature Branagh), learning about Protestants vs. Catholics, fire and brimstone, love and laughter, and even movies. ("High Noon," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "One Million Years B.C." are featured, along with some perfect family commentary and relevance to plot.)

Speaking of Buddy's memorable clan, which includes supportive older brother Will (Lewis McAskie), the film's most distinguished performances and finest moments come from tough and loving "Ma" (Caitriona Balfe), hard-living and working "Pa" (Jamie Dornan), stout and tender "Granny" (Judi Dench) and -- it says here -- this year's surefire Supporting Actor Oscar winner Ciaran Hinds, as the "deep" and streetwise ("Pop"). 

Certainly, all four members of the parental quartet will be nominated for various awards while also collectively garnering considerable favor from voting groups offering "Best Ensemble" prizes. 

As for Branagh, expect both screenwriting and director recognition to be plentiful for what is now his 21st feature as the helmer of the piece. (If anyone's curious, Branagh's only previous Best Director and Best Actor noms came for "Henry V," his first venture behind the camera way back in 1989.)

All this and a moody score from the great Van Morrison make getting to "Belfast" a must. The Toronto "People's Choice" Award winner unspools Friday at theaters everywhere. 

Rated PG-13: some violence and strong language; 1:38; $ $ $ $ $ out $5 

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