hamburger menu icon

Movie Review: BELFAST

This week for “Close-Up with Camenker”,  Zach reviews . . . BELFAST! (December 3, 2021)

Click here for the blurb and showtimes of BELFAST!

Belfast (2021) - IMDbIf you’re looking for a film that is beautifully made, deeply powerful, and incredibly touching all in one, BELFAST is the perfect fit. A semi-autobiographical and very personal film by acclaimed director Kenneth Branagh, the piece is centered on nine-year-old Buddy as he comes of age in Northern Ireland during deep unrest in the late 1960s.

The beauty of this story is evident from the start as you see life through the eyes of young Buddy, played by newcomer Jude Hill who delivers with the expertise of a seasoned performer. Not only do you experience the turmoil in Ireland through Buddy, but you also bear witness to a charming mix of humorous childhood antics and tender moments alongside his parents and grandparents. Anyone who has had a special connection with a grandparent figure in life will delight in what his perspective brings to the narrative. Experiencing so many emotions with Buddy is truly what is at the core of this film and what makes it tug on your heartstrings.

While so much of the story details the hardships that working class families faced at this time of disarray, there is such a heavy emphasis on the magic of one’s youth as well. The ways in which Branagh uses Buddy as an anchor for the film allow us as the audience to feel a connection with him in his moments of happiness and sadness. It is truly an extraordinary way to shoot a movie, almost as if the camera serves as Buddy’s eyes.

The performances are also an enormous part of what anchors this movie. As someone who has admittedly felt director Branagh to be a bit “too much” as an actor in some of his performances, I find his role solely behind the scenes here as a much better fit and one that ultimately helps the film. While Buddy certainly is our protagonist and young Hill’s performance is one to remember, the other members of his family are equally memorable.

Caitriona Balfe delivers an emotionally raw performance as “Ma,” one that combines the joys and hurdles of parenting, especially through crises and difficulties. Balfe grows as her character develops and as time marches on. Unlike some films that fade in the second act, BELFAST actually gets better. Balfe is a key part of this as the characterization that she achieves allows for further development with the plot. Some of her final scenes are among the film’s most noteworthy. Alongside Hill, she is undoubtedly a leading part.

Three supporting performances are also of note and will likely give awards circuits quite a run for their money this season. Veteran actress Judi Dench and frequent Branagh collaborator, who plays Buddy’s “Granny,” delivers once again, showing that like wine, she only gets better with age. Granny delights in Buddy’s youthful excitement and partakes beautifully in a special grandmother-grandson bond that sure provided me with “all the feels” in so many ways. Ciarán Hinds conveys the same type of excellence in his portrayal of Buddy’s “Pop,” who has deep ties to his homeland of Ireland despite the unrest.

Review: 'Belfast' the front-runner for the best picture Oscar | GMAFor me personally, perhaps the biggest revelation was from Jamie Dornan, who plays Buddy’s “Pa.” A complex and multifaceted character to say the least, Dornan’s range is visible throughout his screen time. His reliance on work, desire to provide for his struggling family in the homeland he loves, and unending hope for something better carries him as a character. He develops as much as young Buddy does over the course of the film and has some equally raw scenes as the climactic moments arrive. Look for Dornan on the Red Carpet this season…

It is rare to find a film nowadays that is driven by a small ensemble where each major performer ultimately delivers so finely. Of the movies I’ve seen thus far in 2021, BELFAST is THE film that does.

Branagh’s personal connection to this touching story definitely contributes to what makes the film so beautiful, but so do the overall aesthetics of the piece. From the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography to the period costuming and set design, you feel immersed in the era and as if you too are a resident of Belfast.

Speaking of residents of Belfast, composer Van Morrison, a native of Belfast himself, scores the film, which includes some new original music as well. Nothing makes the movie more beautiful than Morrison’s superb work in my opinion. That, coupled with the frequent sounds of the saxophone, which is such a gorgeous instrument, are the frosting on the cake. I did not tire of hearing his voice or his score from start to finish.

As I previously mentioned, the only drawback of BELFAST is that the first half struggles to come together at moments. Branagh falls prey to something he often is challenged with: trying to do too much in a short time. Luckily, his personal connection to the story does allow him to do a lot here and to make things balance out about as evenly as it can in the second half and by the end. What he delivers is a product that is so fine and noteworthy, I can guarantee you will be left thinking deeply about the film yourself hours after you view it. Catch it at Red River this weekend. I am sure you will feel moved by it in some way, if not in many.


Stay tuned for Volume XXIII of “Close-Up with Camenker,” which will return on Friday, December 17 and will likely detail my thoughts on HOUSE OF GUCCI. This will also mark the one year anniversary of my column! 

Click here to learn more about Zach Camenker!

Become a member

Discounted tickets  /  Free Popcorn  /  So much more...

Donate to our annual fund

Your annual gift is necessary and has impact.

  • Red River is the best cinematic experience that my wife and I have ever had – viewing angle, sound, seating, snacks, staff, web site are top shelf, and the movie selections themselves are talked about for days.

  • My favorite place to see a movie. I always know that whenever I drop in to Red River Theatres, I’ll have a great cinematic experience.

  • Red River Theatres enhances the quality of life in Concord and throughout New Hampshire by offering a continuous selection of the finest and most critically acclaimed movies ranging from independent gems to documentaries to foreign films.

Red River Theatres, Inc.

11 S. Main Street Suite L1-1

Concord, NH 03301

Phone Numbers

Movie Phone: 603.224.4600

Main Office: 603.224.4697

Email Address