“Belfast” is about a relationship that is loving, difficult and full of yearning. It is a love letter to a city and its disintegrating peace.
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Based on the childhood memories of writer-director Kenneth Branagh, this moving film provides a window into an Irish boy’s coming of age before he finally has to leave the city that defines him. Sparingly written on the page, elegantly captured in black and white, the joy and confusion of growing up in a loving but fractured community is palpable. We witness the painful divisions in Northern Ireland in the ‘60’s through the lived experience of a sweet and hopeful protagonist. It is personal, uplifting and heart-breaking.
Buddy, lightly played on screen by Jude Hill, lives in the midst of his family, in the centre of the street, in the heart of the city where although there is joy, there is growing fear and separation. Buddy’s parents, (Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe), must negotiate hard political and financial times as Buddy himself grows acutely aware of division between friends and neighbours. We are given snapshots of their lives – an integrated street of neighbours, a sudden escalation of violence, an ultimatum to pick allegiance to one side, barricades are built, army tanks arrive as does barbed wire to keep people out or perhaps to separate them. There is singing, there are threats, there is sharing, there are guns.
The opposition of this world created on page and screen is key. Against the lightness of street parties, wry grandparents and good neighbours come bombs, anger and religious opposition. Buddy’s parents are forced to make a choice – can they stay or should they leave?
And within these difficulties there is the ever-present power of stories. Buddy learns that although this world is not safe there can still be moments of wonder — theatre, film, comics, and television are a constant reminder of the infinite possibilities of the wider world. We see the seeds of something magical planted in this young boy’s mind.
Belfast is so much more than a city. It is the root of this family’s identity and the definition of who they truly are.
Lolita Chakrabarti is an award-winning actress and writer. She trained at RADA and has been working as an actor on stage and screen for over thirty years. Her recent writing work includes the theatrical productions of “Hymn,” her adaptation of “Life of Pi” currently in London’s West End and “Red Velvet.”
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