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Film Of The Week: Troubled places, troubled times

MARIA DUARTE recommends Kenneth Branagh’s captivating tribute to his hometown — a heart-wrenching tale of sectarian violence and community division in the north of Ireland

Belfast (12A)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh

“YOU can take the boy out of Belfast but you can’t take Belfast out of the boy,” says actor and director Kenneth Branagh as he pays tribute to his hometown in this heartbreakingly beautiful film about his childhood and the devastating effects of sectarian violence on ordinary people.

It opens with an aerial shot in colour of the city in present day, but as the camera pans over the peace walls the streets become a black and white as you go back in time to August 1969 and the beginning of the Troubles, seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy called Buddy (an extraordinary Jude Hill).

Like Branagh at that age, his world is turned upside down overnight as armed rioters suddenly invade his street, targeting his Catholic neighbours, who had been living peacefully alongside Protestant families in a loving and harmonious community.

Suddenly paving stones are lifted to help reinforce barricades at the end of the road as they move on a war footing.

The film balances violence and fear with humour as Buddy innocently pursues his interests: football, films and a girl called Catherine, who he intends to marry.

The adorable Hill is a true revelation and a captivating star, holding his own alongside his A-list cast mates including Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe and Ciaran Hinds, who play his family.

The film — dedicated to those who stayed, those who left and those who were lost — examines divisiveness and the dilemma faced by ordinary working-class people on how best to protect their families.

Buddy’s father (Dornan), who works in England during the week and comes home at weekends, knows they have to leave Belfast for their own safety but his mother (Balfe) wants to stay put in the village that raised her and her youngsters.

Both sad and funny, Belfast explores the meaning of family and home (especially for those who leave) with tolerance the overriding message in this nostalgic, heart wrenching, gorgeous drama — Branagh’s most personal film to date — which I can’t recommend enough.

Maria Duarte
In cinemas January 21

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