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Belfast review: Kenneth Branagh's funny family Troubles drama boasts a stellar cast



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REVIEW: Belfast (12A)

We see The Troubles from a boy's point of view in working-class Belfast in writer/director Kenneth Branagh's love-letter to his Irish childhood.

This outstanding, poignant effort – set in 1969 and shot in black and white – chronicles the Branagh parental stand-ins 'Ma' and 'Pa' struggling to deal with the escalating Protestant/Catholic battles which see the British Army moving in, barricades thrown up in their street and local thugs taking their chances to vandalise homes and loot premises. It's all seen through the eyes of nine-year-old Buddy, the avatar for Branagh who pines for the girl in class, gets into scrapes but wants to go to the moon.

Caitriona Balfe (left) stars as "Ma" and Jude Hill (right) stars as "Buddy" in director Kenneth Branagh's BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit: Rob Youngson / Focus Features.
Caitriona Balfe (left) stars as "Ma" and Jude Hill (right) stars as "Buddy" in director Kenneth Branagh's BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit: Rob Youngson / Focus Features.

Pa, who works in England and visits home fortnightly, creates further upheaval when he wants his Protestant family to escape The Troubles and emigrate. His ongoing tax bill complicates matters too, which leaves the family in financial straits.

Also, Pa has to contend with local hard-nut Colin Morgan as Billy Clanton who urges him to take up the Protestant gang's Catholic-bashing cause but Pa (correctly) concludes he's just in it for the protection money.

So, conflict from all sides, but don't be fooled by the backdrop: this is a very funny film and Branagh will be hard-pressed to better this dialogue during his career.

From left: Caitriona Balfe as "Ma", Jamie Dornan as "Pa", Judi Dench as "Granny", Jude Hill as "Buddy", and Lewis McAskie as "Will" in director Kenneth Branagh's BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit: Rob Youngson / Focus Features.
From left: Caitriona Balfe as "Ma", Jamie Dornan as "Pa", Judi Dench as "Granny", Jude Hill as "Buddy", and Lewis McAskie as "Will" in director Kenneth Branagh's BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit: Rob Youngson / Focus Features.

Caitriona Balfe ('Ma') and Jamie Dornan ('Pa') go through heaps of emotions as the wife and husband, wide-eyed newcomer Jude Hill as Buddy or 'Branagh' is a delight, while veterans Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds as the grandparents know what they're doing by now!

They head a stellar cast which is too numerous to mention.

Already out in the US, Belfast will be released in the UK on January 21 so watch out for it in West Norfolk cinemas.

Writer/director Kenneth Branagh on the set of BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit: Rob Youngson/Focus Features.
Writer/director Kenneth Branagh on the set of BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit: Rob Youngson/Focus Features.

Peter Woodhouse



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