“Belfast” is a coming-of-age drama film written and directed by British actor and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh. The director’s early childhood was spent in his native Irish city of Belfast, and the film is a sweet remembrance of his times there amidst the bitterness of political turmoil. Largely inspired by Branagh’s own experiences and memories of the time, “Belfast” is a sweet and entertaining film about a nine-year-old boy’s realizations and understanding of changing times.
‘Belfast’ Summary: From Innocent Childhood To Restless Violence
The film begins with short scenes of modern-day Belfast, its harbor, architecture, and cityscape. Soon it shifts to history, with a shift from color to black and white as well, to a specific day in history, the 15th of August, 1969. Young nine-year-old Buddy is playing on the streets of his caring and friendly neighborhood. However, things take a very ugly turn quickly as an angry mob rushes in hurling stones and vandalizing houses, and Buddy is made to protect himself with his make-believe trash can shield. The boy is made aware (and the audience as well) that the mob was part of a riot of Protestants raging across all of the city against Catholic citizens. The people of the neighborhood start rebuilding and helping each other irrespective of their religious differences, and the English army rushes in to create an armed blockade at the entry of the street. Buddy lives with his mother, Ma, elder brother, Will, and his extremely caring grandparents, while his father, Pa, lives and works in England and visits them on weekends.
The young boy who belongs to a Protestant family, through conversations with school-mates and people around, starts to realize differences between people of different faiths, although his healthy liberal upbringing does not make him turn against Catholics. He is rather disinterested and scared of going to Church for sermons and instead loves watching American films. Despite the neighborhood’s best efforts to get back to normalcy, trouble keeps brewing underneath, and the local leader of the riots, Billy, demands Pa’s involvement in their activities. Pa walks away from the altercation. He aims to leave the country with his family and settle somewhere abroad, and Buddy overhears this one night. However, he does not really understand what it might mean, and instead focuses on learning his math problems and befriending Catherine, his classmate from school, who he really likes and wants to marry after growing up.
Meanwhile, it grows more and more difficult for the children to stay away from the unfortunate realities of the time. Will is asked by the troublemakers to deliver things for them, and Buddy is taken along by his elder cousin Moira to steal chocolates from a candy store. Their plan goes terribly wrong, and the young boy is heavily reprimanded by his mother once she gets to know about it. Billy creates more pressure on Pa, who grows more desperate to leave the country; but Ma tries her best to convince him not to move, as she does not want to go away from her known surroundings.
The Troubles: What Were Riots Shown In The Film About?
The Northern Ireland conflict, locally known as “The Troubles,” was an ethno-nationalist and sectarian conflict that raged in the country for almost thirty years, and it also forms the main backdrop of the film’s narrative. Although the conflict was mostly based around nationalist sentiments, it quickly took a religious turn due to historical and ethnographic reasons, into a brutally violent fight between the Protestants and the Catholics. Around that time, one section of the Irish people, most of whom happened to be Catholic, wanted to break away from the rule of the United Kingdom and unite with the Republic of Ireland (also known as Ireland), which had already been a republic independent from the UK since 1937. The other section, however, wanted to keep Northern Ireland under the Queen’s rule and separate from Ireland, and they mostly happened to be Protestants.
This conflict about the administration of Northern Ireland as a nation soon turned into a personal fight between the two sects of Christianity. Official figures state that more than 3,500 people have been killed, and many have been displaced and forced to move away, like Buddy’s family in the film, and Branagh’s family in reality. Despite the film not getting into the depths and analyses of the Troubles, the conflict and its direct impact on society form the backbone of the film’s events and their motivations. Numerous instances of actual newsreels and clips from the time period being shown in the film add to the authenticity as well. The family is having very serious thoughts about moving away from Belfast when one afternoon, Buddy unknowingly joins one of the riots that vandalizes and loots a departmental store. He is taken by Moira to join a growing mob as they all march angrily towards the store, which is presumably run by Catholic citizens.
Buddy is scared of what he sees around him and wants to go home, but his childish innocence ultimately makes him perceive the loot as a means to get hold of anything he wants. Grabbing a box of detergent, he runs home and tells his mother about it. Livid at her son’s actions, she takes him back to the store and also gets hold of Moira. As she makes them return the stolen items to the shelves, they are taken hostage by Billy and his men as a way of escaping the police and armed forces who arrive on the scene. Pa and Will also rush to the street, and as Billy tries to shoot a gun, they heroically manage to disarm him and save their family members. The entire film being from the perspective of little Buddy, this scene plays out heroically as well, almost resembling the shootouts between the hero and the villain in Hollywood Westerns that Buddy secretly watches on his home television.
‘Belfast’ Ending Explained: A Sad Goodbye
The family gets back to their home, and Ma takes an emotionally-charged decision to give in to Pa’s wish of moving to England. Some time back, it was established that Buddy’s grandfather, who was his loving friend, guide, and math teacher as well, was getting ill due to old age. One morning, the boy has to run to his father, sitting at a pub, to tell him the news of his grandfather’s demise and to bring him home. The family holds his funeral with a heavy heart and then tries to accept the death and move on with it as they prepare to leave. Pa takes Buddy to bid farewell to Catherine on the morning of their departure. He takes flowers and a letter to her, and she gifts him a book on mathematics. The innocently adoring relationship is ended off as the two make promises to return and meet again. The family then boards a bus to the airport while the grandmother walks up to their now-vacant house. She looks at the bus as it drives away, and Buddy turns to look at her and his neighborhood for one last time.
At its very core, and underneath all the comedy and innocence, ‘Belfast’ is also about the very heartbreaking experience of having to move away from one’s own place of origin. The film offers respect to the millions of people who have been and still are displaced from their own homes due to political and social turmoil, particularly to the ones directly affected by the Northern Ireland Conflict. Texts appearing at the very end of the film read, “For the ones who stayed,” “For the ones who left,” “And for all the ones who were lost.” Overall, ‘Belfast’ becomes a nice and touching watch with it almost striking all the chords that it wants to touch. Great performances by the entire cast and a storytelling-focused narrative, along with beautifully appropriate music by Van Morrison, a native of Belfast himself, make it an excellent retelling of the director’s own experience of real events of his childhood.
Belfast is a 2021 period drama film written and directed by Kenneth Branagh.