Max, Kenneth Branagh's Lively, Joyous Childhood Reminiscence on HBO Max,

Max, Kenneth Branagh's Lively, Joyous Childhood Reminiscence on HBO Max, ...

Kenneth Branagh's most significant film since he directed a four-hour version of Hamlet 25 years ago. It's a comedy, a drama, a nostalgia piece, its generally autobiographical, its shot in black-and-white (mostly), its truth, its myth, and, perhaps most significantly, Jude Hill, who played Boy Branagh in 1969.


The Gist: It's a sunny, happy day in Belfast on Saturday, 15th August, 1969. Children run and play and kick footballs in the street, and shoppers and merchants mingle and chat. Buddy (Hill) plays with friends, clashing wooden swords and trash-can-lid shields as Protestant rioters rumble through the streets targeting Catholic homes, smashing windows and throwing rocks and sticking rags into gas tanks, setting them on fire and backing back while they explode. His brother Will (

Pa (Dornan) isn't here. He works in England, sometimes weeks at a time, as a joiner, a woodworking trade. Ma and Pa go to church because they want to please Granny (Dench) and Pas ma, and Buddy is clearly quite scared by the profusely sweating pastor's fiery sermon, and guess which one is the Catholic one.

Buddy and Will love seeing One Million Years B.C. at their school, while Ma is unimpressed. Pa pays off tax debts diligently when he goes away and asks for certification because he too is good at maths. Pa and Ma are considering and fighting about, you might say, leaving Belfast and everything they know.

What Films Will It Remind You Of?: It differs in tone and POV, but Alfonso Cuarons Roma is equally powerful, rich in black-and-white nostalgia with depth.

Branagh's intelligent, funny script benefits Dench and Hinds the most, because they get all the best performances, reminding us why theyre old pros. Dornan has terrific chemistry with Balfe, who has a powerful, Laura Linney-like screen presence. Hill is a gifted charmer with crisp comic timing.

Memorable Dialogue: They are curries, and I tried em once. I had to wear a nappy for a week, says Granny.

None. Sex and skin

Our Take: Belfast is a triumph of tone and point of view. Branagh reveals the beginning of The Troubles, a 30-year civil war that he has never known before. He has been shaped by his parents and grandparents, who are considerate and generous people who are willing to sacrifice for their families, regardless of how terrible the street may be. Catholics can do whatever they want, however they may be, and they can still enter heaven if they confess their sins.

The film does not focus on the upheaval; instead, it smears in the background of the family's everyday barbed wire; a TV news report signs off for Star Trek. The story settles into the rhythm of the boys' lives: He spends time talking to and listening to his grandparents. There is a troublesome shoplifting incident. Pa warns Buddy, if you cant be good, be careful.

At the cinema, one memorable moment of Buddy's life happens, of course look where Branagh ended up. Pop is in the hospital with a sicking lungs, so Granny joins the family as they watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and everyone in the theater leans forward and gasps. Uh huh. This is how Branagh remembers the event: in childlike wonder.

Belfast is a distillation of Branagh's age of innocence, stripped from the whole cloth of embellishments. It does not render the film void of meaning or truth; telling a tragic conflict from a child's perspective is valuable for the way it emphasizes the value of naivete and youthful purity.

STREAM IT. Belfast is absolutely stunning.

Kenneth Branagh's #BelfastMovie on VOD will be streamed or skipped? #SIOSI

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Visit his website for more information.

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