Kenneth Branagh’s memoir-of-sorts Belfast ends up an insufferably twee film despite the talent involved
“They just kick with the left foot”
There’s a line in the cracking TV show Community that often comes to mind, “just because something is in black and white doesn’t mean it’s good”. There’s no doubting that Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, based in part at least on his own childhood, is entirely heartfelt but the filming style feels entirely like an affectation, bringing nothing to the storytelling itself.
This air of nostalgic indulgence is something that characterises the film as a whole. As it uses a child’s perspective to depict a slice of wholesome working-class family life, the backdrop to which just happens to be the start of the Troubles, there’s a weird sense of aimlessness here, a refusal to be drawn into any kind of meaningful comment on a conflict that must have loomed so large .
It doesn’t help that Branagh directs his lead – Jude Hill’s Buddy – to an almost cartoonish level of wide-eyed inquisitiveness that I quickly found most grating. And because the film is from his perspective, there’s just so much of it. Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds are pushed to a similarly cute place as his grandparents and it’s all just too twee for words.
Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe fare better as Pa and Ma, their struggles a touch closer to the real world but too often, we’re quickly swept back up into Buddy’s latest caper and these just aren’t interesting enough to engage properly. Ultimately, Belfast is a film that dreams small and still barely makes it, ducking the real potency of this most specific time.