Belfast (2021) - 9/10
This opens with a montage in colour that feels like the Irish tourist board have thrown a load of cash at a new promo film for Belfast. It’s not what I was expecting looking at the poster and it doesn’t seem to provide much context as we wipe to black and white and we’re informed it’s 1969… other than setting a tone of carefully crafted style. What follows is an opening scene that’s gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. Young Buddy (Jude Hill) is playing in the streets, all the neighbours out on doorsteps, living their lives. For a moment it’s a typical rose tinted take on the past. Until a riot kicks off and we’re thrown into The Troubles. It’s quite a switch. Amazingly shot, cameras dancing around the cast, the cuts becoming more frenetic as the violence increases. The rest of the film is built on the foundation of this first glimpse. We follow Buddy through his changing world as he tries to make sense of what’s happening. For all the tension though, it’s not especially gritty. It feels a bit like a remembered dream. Perhaps that’s what this is after all. Kenneth Branagh is at the helm and this is loosely based on his childhood. It’s beautifully paced and even more beautifully shot. The black and white helps, but every shot is so lovingly put together, it’s a joy to watch. It’s funny too. Not rolling on the floor funny, but a constant chuckling funny, with real moments of light that contrast well with the tension. We’re shown a world of outside toilets, barb wire barricades. Skipping ropes, milk bottles, tank tops… and a lot of Van Morrison. Buddy’s life is still fairly simple. He’s concerned with catching the eye of a girl in class, but it’s getting more complicated by the day. Family trouble, peer pressure and of course the religious battles that defined the era. Much of it could be described as a kitchen sink drama, albeit one with a sizeable budget. But really it’s about hope. Hope and family. Buddy’s got quite a family too. His grandparents are Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench. Not too shabby. In fact the entire cast are great. The whole film is. It’s beautifully poignant. It’s wonderful. I love it! I don’t say this often, but as the credits roll over more Van Morrison, I could easily go right back to the start and watch it again. Maybe without the promo film though.