Belfast review – Branagh’s chocolate box vision of his childhood | Drama films

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Kenneth Branagh’s unabashedly feelgood memoir of growing up in Belfast as the Troubles erupted in the late 1960s suffers from a problem of perspective. Canted camera angles are rendered in flat, too-clean black and white; the film leans hard into its deliberately skewed child’s point of view. Nine-year-old Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill) hops, skips and jumps through rows of chocolate-box terrace houses to a bouncy soundtrack of Van Morrison. His family, which includes Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds’s cutesy Granny and Pop, find solace at the movies.

Buddy’s family are Protestants; their Catholic neighbours will soon be driven out of their homes by sectarian hostility. Jamie Dornan’s Pa is a labourer working in England who returns home to a growing pile of unpaid bills and violence brewing on the streets. The impressionable Buddy is encouraged by a schoolfriend to loot a supermarket; implausibly, Ma (Caitríona Balfe) marches him back into the thick of the violence to return a box of stolen washing powder.

The patina of nostalgia is used to avoid contextualising the Troubles, something the family feels separate from. A 30-year conflict that started with civil rights protests is boiled down to a vague problem of “bloody religion”. After all, Buddy’s crush is a Catholic. “She could be a vegetarian antichrist for all I care,” Pa reassures him.

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