Opening 24 Feb 2022
Sir Kenneth Branagh was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1960, and spent the first nine years of his life there. This semi-autobiographical movie is his most personal project to date, made for those who stayed, those who left, and those who were lost in the tumultuous times of the Northern Ireland conflict. The story is set in August 1969, in a typical working-class neighborhood, where until then Catholics and Protestants lived together peacefully. Nine-year-old Buddy (introducing 10-year-old Jude Hill) grows up going to movies, collecting matchbox cars, and falling in love for the first time with his classmate. His father (Jamie Dornan) is away often, working as a joiner in England, so that Buddy is very close to his mother (Caitríona Balfe) and his loving grandparents (Dame Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds). When violence erupts in this previously harmonious neighborhood, with Catholic shops being attacked and looted, the Protestant families are being threatened to be hurt, they do not take sides and participate in the violence. Buddy's parents begin to talk about leaving Belfast. That means leaving the ailing grandfather and the devoted grandmother, but most of all, their home.
Whilst the movie is filmed in black and white, to stress the seriousness of the conflict, and all performances are superb, everything seems a little bit too smooth on the surface, not grimy and dark enough. The mother is too well coiffed, the father too cleanly shaven, everything looks a bit too neat. The music, mostly by Van Morrison, who is also a native of Belfast, changes to the theme song of High Noon (“Do not forsake me, oh my darling”) in some critical scenes. However, all this is forgiven, because it is obvious that Kenneth Branagh's work is a labor of love and a tribute to his Northern Irish heritage. (Ulrike Lemke)