As a filmmaker and actor, Kenneth Branagh has run very hot and cold. Hailed as the heir apparent to Laurence Olivier (did we need one?), Branagh exploded into film with […]
As a filmmaker and actor, Kenneth Branagh has run very hot and cold. Hailed as the heir apparent to Laurence Olivier (did we need one?), Branagh exploded into film with a bloody, realistic production of ‘Henry V’ (1989) landing himself nominations for Oscars as Best Actor and Best Director. Never again has he danced so close to the major prizes, though he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor portraying the entitled snob Olivier in ‘My Week with Marilyn’ (2011). Now to be clear, I am certainly not a fan of Sir Laurence Olivier, never have been. I felt he was obscenely overrated as an actor because one could ALWAYS see him acting, there was no truth to his work. Except once. As the dangerous Nazi dentist Szell in ‘Marathon Man’ (1976), he commanded the screen and radiated danger, he was remarkable.
The rest? Hooey.
Branagh remade two of Olivier’s best-known films, ‘Henry V’ (1989) and the full-text film ‘Hamlet’ (1996), both of which made us forget Olivier. Though Olivier won an Oscar as Best Actor, (seriously?), he never captured the mystery of the brooding Dane which Branagh did. Hell, even Mel Gibson did it in 1990! Branagh’s version of ‘Hamlet’ is a remarkable film, lavish and yet intimate in its storytelling with superb performances from its all-star cast. Granted, one tires looking for the many actors and actresses within the film, but it’s a thrill to watch the director weave his magic. Branagh went wrong as both an actor and director when he chose to get buff and Hollywood-looking for his Francis Ford Coppola produced Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1994), a dreadful film that contains one truly terrifying moment. Realizing she has been reanimated from the dead, the look of shame, and horror that crosses the face of Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth is one of both brilliance and the stuff of nightmares. Though reasonably close to the book, the film was a shameful mess, and the casting of Robert De Niro as the monster left a great deal to be desired.
When he has been strong as a director, he is very good but when he goes off track, which he frequently does, all his weaknesses show. In ‘Belfast’, we see no weaknesses, not one. It is a fine, confident work from a director hellbent on telling a fine story based on his life growing up in Ireland. Is it a great film? No. A film for the ages? No. But films but can average and still be loved. As critics, we watch, we react and that is that. Nothing will change my reaction (trust me people have tried!) and I believe what I write. Make up your mind, but why try and convince others that your beliefs are the only ones?
It is a lovely, sentimental film about growing up in Ireland, amidst the strife between Catholics and Protestants seen through the eyes of children. It is no John Boorman’s ‘Hope and Glory’ (1987), a mesmerising tale of Boorman growing up in London during the Blitz in WWII. It is 1969 and unrest in the neighbourhood is fast coming. Though the family, Buddy (Jude Hill) being the main character, has no problem with the Catholics, they know that sides are exclusive, and they are going to have to choose one. To be on the wrong side could get your entire family killed. Thus, a great deal of thought goes into leaving or staying. The family is made up of Buddy’s parents, portrayed by Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan and the grandparents, luminously portrayed by Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds, who appear to have lived an entire life together, so comfortable are they with one another.
The riots of 1969 are rarely discussed, they are just in the background, and the family hears them constantly as they weigh their options. To Buddy, it is a great adventure, never truly realizing the danger at hand. Though danger lurks, Buddy does not spend much time thinking about it. There are other things to do, like impress the pretty girl at school he has eyes for. The family often goes to the movies, where the big full-colour movies explode out of the black and white Branagh chose to portray ‘Belfast’. As they watch ‘One Million Years BC’ (1966) with its blazing blue skies, and Raquel Welch, the perfect specimen of womankind in her deer-skin bathing suit, Buddy is full of awe and wonder.
Family life is portrayed as what family life is, they laugh a lot, and there are serious discussions, even tears, but they are a family and always there for one another. The actors are beautiful together, forging a true ensemble, a family that can survive anything. Jude Hill has an uncanny likeness to a young Branagh and, even against the formidable talents within the cast, is the brightest light. The production values are perfect and the crisp black and white cinematography lovely. I do adore black and white movies!
Overall, it is a very fine, honourable film, beautifully directed by Branagh, who also wrote the screenplay, he tore into his memories to find the narrative and bring it to vivid life. A very good film.
The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5
About The Author:
John H. Foote is among the best known film critics in Canada, and has been active as a critic for thirty years. His career began as co-host, co-producer of the popular movie talk and review program Reel to Real. He left the show after ten years for his first love, print criticism, he longed to write about movies. For two years he wrote for Toronto Life and Fashion Magazine, his work quote in the LA and New York Times, as well as major papers across North America. He was offered a position writing for the internet and has since wrote for incontention.com, thewrap.com, screenrant.com, awardscircuit.com and most recently thecinemaholic.com. In May, 2018 he started his own site https://Footeandfriendsonfilm.com, which has enjoyed great success its first few months. Foote was also involved in film education teaching film history and film genre at Trebas Institute before leaving to be Dean of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history and continued his work as a critic. Foote has written two books, Clint Eastwood : Evolution of a Filmmaker, and Spielberg: American Film Visionary. His third, American Cinema in the Seventies is due for release in 2020.
Through his career he has interviewed everyone in the business except Jack Nicholson.