Belfast:”The child is father of the man”
William Wordsworth’s poetic statement that the child is father of the man expresses precisely the sentiments encapsulated in Belfast. The quote radiates a message about Belfast to remember the violence and the differences imposed by people but to also remember that Belfast is a place that belongs to the people that defines them, their families, their values and shapes them as they grow from childhood to adulthood. That is Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, the place where you belong.
Memories are powerful and unreliable. They nonetheless provide us with a connection to our youth and the vivid nature of what we remember, whether those memories are accurate or based on images that are echoes of events in our past. Memories of Belfast immediately recall sectarian violence and religious divisions between family and friends. Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is not that movie. The memory component is highlighted by the way the film bookends the black and white memories with colour footage at the beginning and end that structures the adult character’s voice to allow those memories to live.
'Kenneth Branagh uses slow, lingering takes in black and white & close ups of faces…(Belfast) is developed almost like a newsreel"
A reflection by film enthusiastic John D
Belfast is like browsing through a photographic album with photos that come alive. Undoubtedly, the Troubles are prominent in the lives of a family living in their street in Belfast. Specifically, Kenneth Branagh’s movie views Belfast through the eyes of a boy, Buddy (Jude Hill) whose family lives in a street where neighbours know one another and children are part of a larger shared community family. Buddy’s Pa (Jamie Dornan) works in England and returns when he can to be with his family, while his Ma (Catriona Balfe) along with Buddy’s Pop (Ciarán Hinds) and Granny (Judi Dench) provide a loving and caring home for Buddy.
Ma | Pa with Buddy | Pa, Pop & Buddy
The neighbourhood is one large extended family. Life’s not ideal with the demands of job security, wages, the family’s debts, Pop’s diminishing health and the strain of Pa working away from home but life is peaceful with a sense of joy around life in their street. As memories tend to suggest, life continues and people manage to interact and intermingle, regardless of differences around politics, religion, and social status. Life goes on. The emotional heart of the film revolves around love, caring, and warmth within a family that has its issues as most families do, even before the sectarian violence that erupts in their street.
We meet Buddy as he plays on the street slaying imaginary dragons with a rubbish bin lid substituting for his shield and a sword made of two pieces of wood nailed together. Their lives are full of US television shows and visits to the cinema to allow a break from the tensions on the streets. Belfast's soundtrack features the requisite songs by Van Morrison.
As his mother calls him home for his dinner, life changes forever for Buddy. The street erupts with men marching, smashing doors and windows, threatening families and neighbours. The attackers are Protestants while the majority of the residents are Catholic. The leader of the violent attackers, Billy Clanton, a Protestant and Pa’s one-time friend, demands Pa join his cause. He tells Pa he needs to support the Protestants and rage against the Catholics. Pa’s reply is that he will protect his family regardless of Billy’s demands.
Buddy’s use of his shield and sword to slay an imaginary dargon is symbolic of the legend of St. George and the dragon.
“St. George stands for the courage to face adversity in order to defend the innocent. The triumph of good over evil, through courage. The king who adopted him might be almost forgotten today, but for centuries Saint George represented the idea of courageous leadership and, with it, the unifying popular will to be governed well and protected.”
LINK: Saint George: The Man, The Myth, The Legend: Saint George is the patron saint of England. Schoolchildren are taught that he was a knight who slayed dragons but is there more to the historical figure?
From St. George’s Society New York, 2018
Buddy, in his innocence, manages to get caught up in the looting of a supermarket that draws the ire of his Ma as she makes it clear that he needs to be mindful of what his actions mean in the sectarian divisions unfolding in the streets and the recognition of his own family's values. For Buddy, the children’s world in their street is still a world of playfulness and youthful innocence. In one way, Buddy’s actions as a looter are an adventure similar to slaying dragons with a pretend shield and wooden sword, except that the violence of the mob is real and the implications are dire.
The residents build barricades to protect themselves and their families. Buddy is gathered and taken home under a barrage of bricks and fists. Sectarian violence has erupted in a street that becomes a focal point of the border checkpoint between, in Buddy's street, the Catholics and the Protestants. The designations of groups from Royalists and Unionists to Loyalists and Republicans is a complex matter. The physical barriers reflect the beginning of personal barriers between families.
Buddy discovers that his identity isolates him as part of an “us and them” movement, a notion unrepresentative of his Ma, Pa, Granny and Pop. His father states categorically when Buddy innocently asks whether he and his school girlfriend will ever have a chance to see each other again and maybe get married because it’s “us”--Buddy and his Catholic family--against “them”--his girlfriend and her Protestant family. His father says, “There is no us and them.”
For others, the divide is real, animosities flare and threats are levelled. Pa stands as a family man against his friends and workmates who are organisers for the Protestant mob. They ask him to make a choice.
They speak in simple terms about Pa being with them or against them. His father’s response hurls a searing reply that states categorically that he will defend and protect his family regardless of the political and religious divisions being invoked.
“I can still remember the name of every family in our flats that had to get out. They had good neighbours, but it was the bad ones that forced them to go. I suppose if Ken’s film has any message for me personally it is that Northern Ireland can be a great place if they’d just leave us alone.”
Martin Hamilton, director Kenneth Branagh’s first cousin
For Buddy, considering the challenges and impositions involving his family, life is sweet until a dash of bitter is added with the threatening and intimidating behaviour of the factional bullies. Pop and Granny go about their daily chores. Pop has an endearing behaviour that involves sitting on the outdoor loo while checking the newspaper. The personal heartache of his Pop’s deteriorating health and the impending critical changes within his life with his Pa’s offer of better work conditions in England to provide a secure future for the family saddens Buddy's young heart. His Ma doesn’t want to leave but learns to accept if the family is to have a better life for themselves and their sons. This would mean uprooting the family.
Granny, Buddy & Pop
One of the most devastating aspects of such a move would be the separation of Buddy from his loved Granny and Pop. Their circumstances mean they have no options except to continue living their lives in their street in Belfast. Choices must be made. Buddy’s childhood will be affected whether the family stays in Belfast or moves to England.
Director Kenneth Branagh & Buddy on the set of Belfast
At the beginning, I said Branagh’s Belfast is not a film about the sectarian violence yet the discussion has spoken constantly about the violence. It is not a film about the Troubles; it is a collection of moments that make memories that happen to include the onset of the Troubles. Buddy’s childhood memories trigger thoughts of happiness, joy, sadness, childhood romance, love and understanding that will shape the adult man that he will become. Kenneth Branagh has allowed us to momentarily share those memories in a heartwarming manner.
Official Trailer Belfast
Still photos, trailer & poster © Universal Pictures/Northern Ireland Screen TKBC
FILM EXTRAS: Irrepressible, Enchanting & Delightful Irish Movies
Waking Ned Devine (1998)
When best friends Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly) discover someone in their small Irish village has won the lottery, they immediately set off to see if the winner is in a sharing mood. Deducing that Ned Devine is the lucky man, O'Shea and O'Sullivan pay him a visit, only to find him dead from shock. Since Devine is the only one who can claim the prize, the townsfolk band together to convince the claim inspector that O'Sullivan is really Devine, and split the cash.
WHERE TO WATCH Waking Ned Divine
The Secret of Roan Inish (1995)
Fiona (Jeni Courtney) is a young Irish girl with an unusual family history, including a long-missing baby brother. When she goes to live with her grandparents on the west coast of Ireland, Fiona hears stories about her ancestors, tales that involve mythical creatures called selkies who can shift from seal to human form. After Fiona ends up on the small island of Roan Inish, her family's ancestral home, she believes she may have found her little brother living by the sea.
A wonderful & enchanting movie.
WHERE TO WATCH The Secret of Roan Inish
The Commitments (1991)
Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), a self-proclaimed promoter, decides to organize an R&B group to fill the musical void in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland. The band comes together but ends up consisting entirely of white musicians who have little experience with the genre. Even though their raw talent and lofty aspirations gain the group notoriety, the pitfalls of fame began to tear at their newfound friendships as they prepare for their big show. Based on the novel by Roddy Doyle. Great soundtrack.
WHERE TO WATCH The Commitments
My Left Foot (1989)
No one expects much from Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), a boy with cerebral palsy born into a working-class Irish family. Though Christy is a quadriplegic and essentially paralyzed, at the age of 5 he demonstrates control of his left foot by using chalk to scrawl a word on the floor. With the help of his mother (Brenda Fricker) -- and no shortage of grit and determination -- Christy becomes a painter, poet and author.