Black & White Double Feature, Part 2: Belfast

The Stream: Annoying child actor plays the central character.

The Big Screen: Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe have great chemistry.

The Final Bill: A nice family drama isn’t spectacular but hits the emotional sweet spot.

– Trip Fontaine
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Kenneth Branagh
Stars: Jude Hill, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan
Genre: Drama
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violence and strong language
Runtime: 1 hour 33 minutes
Production Companies: TKBC, Focus Features
Platform: In Theaters (Now)

Well, Streamers, we have a review of another black and white film for you this week — Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. The release of Belfast this month was well-positioned for both awards buzz as well as family entertainment. Let’s see how it does on both fronts.

Kenneth Branagh wrote and directed Belfast drawing from his childhood memories of growing up in Northern Ireland. The film centers on Buddy (Jude Hill), a precocious kid, growing up in Belfast in the midst of growing turmoil between Protestants and Catholics. Buddy’s family is entrapped by the danger on their street and are tested by their financial hardships. Buddy’s Ma (Caitriona Balfe) holds down the fort and tries to protect Buddy and his brother while Buddy’s Pa (Jamie Dornan) is working in England and only returns home every two weeks. Buddy’s grandparents also have a prominent role in the film. As tensions grow between the warring factions, Buddy’s family has to make a decision about whether to stay in the only home he’s ever known or whether to escape to a safer situation.

The storyline of Belfast is simple but effective. Branagh focuses on the care and affection these family members have for each other and their desperate need to protect each other. The film uses its black and white cinematography to evoke that feeling of memory and the music throughout mimics the emotions that permeate the tensions in the movie. Maybe I’m too ignorant, but I did not understand what the conflict was between the Protestants and Catholics and why it was so violent in Belfast at the time. Buddy must not either since the film is told from his perspective and we don’t get much explanation about that. Nevertheless, the coming-of-age drama hits the marks one would expect and Branagh clearly has an emotional connection to the material that is conveyed in each frame.

My biggest issue with Belfast is Jude Hill. He’s just alright. Sometimes child actors suffer trying to carry these types of films. Roman Griffin Davis did a great job anchoring Jojo Rabbit. Alan Kim was pretty good in Minari. Remember Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense! Jude Hill is no Haley Joel. Sorry, Buddy. He doesn’t ruin the movie, but either another actor needed to be cast or the focus should have been more on the adults. Both Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan give good performances that add emotional weight to the film. You get more of the stakes from Balfe and Dornan than from Hill. Maybe that’s asking too much of the kid.

S2S: Official Rating Scale

Ultimately, I understand why Belfast is an Oscar hopeful. It has a sentimental story that plays on the emotions with good performances from the adult cast. Despite my reservations about Jude Hill’s performance, the otherwise simple story hits the marks of this kind of drama. It’s a good movie, but I wouldn’t call it any better than these other coming-of-age family dramas. Get a bowl of popcorn for a Sunday matinee since it’s only in theaters.