Shot in black and white and set in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, Belfast is so evidently Kenneth Branagh’s most personal film to date. The film follows nine-year-old Buddy (Jude Hill) as he braves both the tense political climate of Ireland in this time period as well as the rough spot his family is in personally. We also get some insight into his parents lives separate from their children, played wonderfully by Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe. The always-wonderful Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds absolutely steal the show as Buddy’s grandparents as well.
It’s hard to dispute a film that is clearly so personal for a filmmaker, and Belfast is seemingly made with nothing but love and passion in each and every frame. But one of my biggest issues with the film is the lack of energy to the story and characters. I’m not a stickler for pacing – I can really appreciate just watching our characters go throughout their daily lives as we slowly learn more about them and the world around them through their eyes. But Belfast moves just a tad bit too slow for my liking, and never really felt like a satisfying package in its entirety despite a handful of solid moments.
Visually speaking, the film is absolutely ravishing. There aren’t a lot of black and white films being made today, but the few that are usually make the effort to look as good as possible. It’s not as simple as throwing a filter over a colored frame – every shot in Belfast is so technically precise and immaculately curated that it’s hard to not be impressed with the attention to detail that can be found in every single scene.
While I can’t say I was as charmed by the film as others seemingly are, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad film either. It falls in a very middling category for me that reminds me of classic Oscar-bait films; not to diminish Branagh telling a story that is clearly very personal to him, but it’s simply not something that held my interest for very long and only had a handful of memorable moments that stood out to me in any significant way. I can see this sweeping with the Academy next year, and I wouldn’t even really be upset, but I just can’t fully get on the train when I found so much of it to be a bit too simplistic for my liking.