“There is no our side and their side on our street. Well, there didn’t use to be, anyway.”Pa
Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical ode to his youth, set in 1960s Belfast at the start of the Troubles, is is presented from the perspective of nine-year-old Buddy. Opening with sudden sectarian violence, the camera circles the overwhelmed child as we glimpse flashes of the action around him, heightened by the stark monochrome. Some have criticised its surface-level engagement with the Northern Ireland conflict, but that is not intended to be its focus save insofar as it invariably seeps into family life. It is more a coming of age tale as Buddy gets love advice from his grandparents and tries not to be led astray by his cousin. His home is filled with the love even as tensions in the city rise, ramshackle barricades becoming a permanent feature of the street. Branagh draws parallels through cinema, the boys watching specifically selected Westerns like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (“Has everyone in this country gone kill-crazy?!”) and High Noon (“You’re asking me to wait an hour to find out if I’m going to be a wife or a widow.”), whilst men patrol the street at night with burning torches as if in those same films. Likewise, the only moments of colour come from the arts, providing a beautiful black and white shot of Judi Dench with the warm colour of stage play reflected in her glasses. Filmed between opulent Agatha Christie adaptations with much of the same crew, Belfast is a more intimate and personal project which — although not particularly subtle in its crowd-pleasing intensions — is nevertheless well-observed, wonderfully acted and beautifully shot.