By Clay Thompson | Reporter
Even with barely any knowledge of the Troubles that took place in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, Kenneth Branagh’s film based on his own childhood in Belfast speaks to a wider audience on the filters of childhood, how children deal with immense trauma and the true meaning of home.
I first thought the film to be a bit uneven when it began with a colorful introduction to what I can assume to be the modern version of Belfast, then a quick transition to the black-and-white filtered 1960s when the Troubles first began. In the eyes of little Buddy, a precocious young boy living in a small neighborhood, he is quick to learn that conflict can reach even the smallest and most peaceful places.
However, as the movie went on, I realized there was a reason for the large amounts of stylization I was seeing. I was seeing it through the eyes of Buddy, who struggles to adapt to the changes this conflict brings to his life.
Jude Hill does a wonderful job in his first major film role, playing Buddy in the movie. He digs deep into his character’s naivety, trustfulness and just plain childishness. He seems to embody a true child in the sense of his playfulness and mischief, but also includes the other parts of childhood, such as escapism, secrets and having to be strong for adults in times of trouble. With both natures, Hill plays wonderfully and shows the audience how resilient children can be to live life in the face of adversity or conflict.
The film is full of symbolism, with dashes of color in things like film and television, and plays a hint at them being escapes for Buddy during the violence of the conflict in Belfast. The sky’s stormy look hints at brewing trouble, the empty streets and barricades are a constant reminder of fear, yet Buddy braves these things head-on and still finds joy in his life from his family, despite its own problems.
I think what the film does best is send a message to the audience. One of the tag lines of the film is that “no matter how far you go, you never forget where you came from.” While this might seem a bit dark for a film revolving around the childhood of a boy in the midst of violent religious conflict in Northern Ireland, the film doesn’t focus on that for the majority. It mostly sits on the back burner or fits subtly in the viewer’s eyes as Buddy roams around the town experiencing life.
I think the film’s message and tagline should be more along the lines of “never forget where you came from because if you do, you can never truly grow or be better.” Recognize the importance and choose to stay where you were, or move on. That is what I truly believe the film portrays beautifully.
While Buddy and Branagh’s childhoods may have come with a regrettable bout of trauma, “Belfast” shows that even drastic circumstances may not always change childhood experiences. There is always the good, bad and ugly, but the choice to find joy in life despite the struggles is always our own. “Belfast” was a truly profound and satisfying film that I hope any and all viewers will enjoy and appreciate.
“Belfast” is for rent $5.99 on Prime Video or iTunes.