Belfast Review: Branagh delivers in the heartwarming tale of the year

Writer/Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds, Jude Hill,
Synopsis: Written and directed by Academy Award® nominee Kenneth Branagh, BELFAST is a poignant story of love, laughter and loss in one boy’s childhood, amid the music and social tumult of the late 1960s.

Sometimes in film, even as early as the opening credits, you just have a feeling that you are in for something special. The opening of Belfast, and what conspired over the next hour and a half was just that, special.

If you can’t be good, be careful


These are words that Pa (Jamie Dornan) mutters to his boys Buddy (Jude Hill) and Will (Lewis McAskie) every time he would part. Pa is your typical old-school father. He would leave for his job, work a few weeks and come home to his family. But, like an old-school father, he would drink, gamble and find himself in trouble often.

Often there is a certain stigma around actors who are attached to projects early in their career that isn’t, in the eyes of most, good. Of course, I am talking about Jamie Dornan and his role in 50 Shades of Grey which didn’t ruin his career, but did stall it for a while. We’ve seen many break free from this stigma this year alone in Dakota Johnson, Kristen Stewart and more recently with Robert Pattinson. All three were stuck in this idea that maybe they couldn’t act because of their roles in the 50 Shades or Twilight franchise.

However, following any of their careers, you know this isn’t a recent resurgence. This is the culmination of years of indie work to try to re-establish themselves as quality actors. The issue for most mainstream viewers is they don’t typically see the smaller films that these characters are attached to, which they show off their true acting prowess. For some, this will be their first introduction to Jamie Dornan outside of Christian Grey, where they will say, ‘wow, he can act.’

Dornan has the nuances down within the role of Pa that makes him stand out. He has this charm that shows why he was able to be with someone as beautiful as Ma (Caitriona Balfe) and we also see the father he is. Even if he is absent at times, the kid’s glamour to the idea of Pa being home. He is perfect in this role, and he even gets to show off his singing for the second time this year.

“Raquel Welch is a hell of an education.”


As Pa decides to take everyone to a movie, he picks One Million Years B.C., which stars Raquel Welch in the tiniest barbarian style of outfits and Ma (Balfe) mutters these words. 

Ma reminds you of a Mama Bear mixed in with the old-school style of thinking of how a wife was supposed to be. She took the things that Pa did on the chin continuously whether it was debts, his frequent lying, or even his overbearing decision-making, never including her. But, when it came to her cubs, nothing was off-limits. 

Caitriona Balfe is one of those actresses you see in the cast list and immediately get excited because of how she delivers over and over again. She displayed this in her small amount of screen time in Ford v Ferrari, as she absolutely stole the show as Mollie Miles, but her role as Ma is her best yet. 

Balfe carries the emotional weight of the entire film on her shoulders. We see her as the more reserved wife early on, but as her cubs become more and more in danger, the aggressive side of Ma comes forward. Balfe takes this on full steam and delivers. She shows the audience her love and compassion, but at the same time, the depths she will go to protect the ones she loves. One scene in particular rips your heart into a million pieces, she is THAT good.

We all have a story to tell, but what makes each one different is not how the story ends, but rather the place where it begins.


I’ve spoken about my love of this cast. Dornan and Balfe were magnificent as Jude Hill was, Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds were all impressive. However, the star of the show was the man behind the words and the camera, Mr. Kenneth Branagh.

Personal stories don’t always translate to those who weren’t there or don’t understand that particular person’s battle, especially in the film world. The story may be personal, but is it relatable? Are you doing enough to bring this world to the eyes of the viewer? Is it enough to make people care?

The answer to all of that is yes. Branagh is the MVP of this film with his marvelous articulate work behind the lens. He didn’t try to razzle-dazzle with unneeded stuff or try to make the movie something it was not. Instead, he laid the groundwork for this troubled family, trying to overcome the odds of their upbringing, the wars around them and the relationships placed in front of them. He emotionally pours his heart into every word that is spoken in a way that you feel it from scene to scene.

There is one scene in particular where Buddy is trapped amid a battle and he does this incredible 360-degree shot around him that makes the audience feel trapped with him. Just as Buddy was trying to defy the odds and get out, so is every person watching. Branagh also placed the camera in several different angles throughout, making it feel like everyday conversations with a real family. We could see our lives on display, almost like a reality show.

You know who you are, don’t ya?


You laugh, love, connect with the tale of these characters, who they are, who they want to become, and understand why kids’ innocence is so important. Everything about this tale is heartwarming, charming and an absolute delight to watch from start to finish.

The Verdict: A

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

3 thoughts on “Belfast Review: Branagh delivers in the heartwarming tale of the year

Add yours

  1. There are 8 friends that will see the film this weekend.
    Cannot wait to see ,feel and enjoy…
    Congrats in advance for bringing this
    Joyous film to the public…
    Oscar nominations for the entire team especially


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