Seven Oscar nominations. That’s what this film has garnered so far. Alongside that, Belfast won Outstanding British Film and Best Supporting Actress (the inimitable Caitríona Balfe) at the BAFTAs last week. Unlike the BAFTAs though, Belfast is largely tipped to win nothing at the Academy Awards. Though some still see it as a possibility for Best Picture and Best Director, I believe The Power of the Dog will sweep both of those categories quite convincingly (even if I’d be overjoyed if CODA won one of the top gongs on the night.) In fact, if Belfast does win either of these, I’ll actually be strongly dissatisfied.
Belfast is a dramatic semi-autobiographical retelling of Sir Kenneth Branagh‘s life as a child growing up in Northern Ireland. While the city of Belfast was caught up in religio-political turmoil in the 1960s, the children of the area attempted to maintain their optimistic view of the world. The film follows Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill), who is juggling his maths homework with the impending doom that his family may uproot to England in order to escape conflict.
Firstly, I’d like to state that this movie is completely average. Yes, it may be heart-warming and actually quite funny at times, but overall, it all just feels a little self-indulgent and icky.
I’m sure there are a lot of people (namely Northern Irish people who grew up in this era) who loved this, and I’m glad for them, but there were so many things in Belfast that just didn’t do it for me. For example, I can’t think of a more Oscar-baity movie from recent times… and the Academy completely fell for it. If this is the best movie they could find to nominate for Best Picture then this must be a pretty poor Oscars year.
There’s no two ways about it: the majority of gripes I had with this were with Branagh‘s writing and directing. Some of the shots for instance were pretty creative and well-composed, but the whole thing absolutely reeks of trying too hard. It’s almost as if Branagh directed this movie by just throwing every single idea he had at the camera, stopping every now and then to say “no, that didn’t look artsy enough, let’s shoot it again but this time from underneath this random side character’s elbow”. I’m not sure that makes sense really, but if you’ve seen it, you might just know what I mean. Not to mention that the story itself is very wishy washy and poorly structured. And what’s the point of the black & white exactly? Is it just because it’s set in the past? That doesn’t feel like a good enough reason. I just don’t get it.
Thankfully, there are some really good and noteworthy performances here. Little Jude Hill is very charismatic for such a young actor, and in fairness to him, he’s what kept me interested for the most part. Ciarán Hinds is as good as you’d expect him to be and I’d be fine with him taking home Best Supporting Actor (though my heart wants it to be Troy Kotsur). However, nominating Judi Dench as Best Supporting Actress is actually kind of laughable. I think they might have got her confused with Caitríona Balfe, actually, because if anyone deserved a nod as a result of this, it’s her. Sure, Dench is decent enough, but it’s completely and utterly a legacy nomination in this instance. Balfe is poised, multi-dimensional, and nuanced here, so omitting her in favour of Dench seems wholly counter-productive since she’s one of the best parts of the film.
Yes, the performances in Belfast at least make some of it bearable, and they, along with some glimmers of welcome saccharine humour are what warrant the 2.5 rating here. Crucially though, it’s actually quite baffling that this is only a 90 minute film because it’s dreary nothingness makes it feel a hell of a lot longer. Meh. Overrated.
Belfast is available to rent for £15.99 on Amazon, Sky Store, Apple TV and the Google Play Store in the UK.
TQR Category Ratings:
Costume & Set Design:
Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½