Belfast: Kenneth Branagh's Moving Nostalgic Tale (Blu-ray)
Sir Kenneth Branagh has had quite the illustrious and eclectic career. Starting off with his incredible stage career as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he would naturally start into film by directing some of the greatest Shakespeare adaptations ever made, including "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing," and "Hamlet." While he did indeed also include some non-Bard-related films, it wasn't until later that he really branched out, taking on a variety of projects that included "Sleuth," "Cinderella," "Thor," and a pair of Agatha Christie adaptations ("Murder on the Orient Express" and "Death on the Nile"). Now he brings us his most personal project to date with "Belfast," a story based on his own childhood growing up in the titular city, and one that's been receiving non-stop acclaim ever since it premiered at Telluride merely a few months ago.
Taking place in the late '60s, the film follows a family consisting of Ma (Caitriona Balfe), Pa (Jamie Dornan), Granny (Judi Dench), Pop (Ciaran Hinds), Will (Lewis McAskie), and nine-year-old Buddy (Jude Hill), whom we follow for most of the story. Riots break out during a time known as "The Troubles," during which a group of Protestants attack the Catholics around Buddy's home, causing the residents to put up a barricade to prevent it from happening again. Meanwhile, the family goes about its business, dealing with a number of issues, including Pa having to work overseas to pay off debt and getting harassed about helping "the cause," and young Buddy pursuing his feelings for a fellow classmate. As the danger in their neighborhood increases, they soon face an incredibly difficult decision that could have them abandoning the only home Buddy has ever known.
"Belfast" is a fascinating little film in that it strangely is not particularly memorable for its story, which is touching and engaging, but rather remarkable for the experience it gives the viewer. As mentioned, this is an incredibly personal film for Branagh, who lived through very similar events and detailed characters based on his actual family, all of which is very deeply felt as these events play out. Branagh and his cast build these characters in such a way that you can't help but become attached to them, rooting for them every step of the way as they navigate through their numerous problems.
Speaking of the cast, if there's one element of the film that stands out above all others, it would have to be the remarkable ensemble that Branagh assembled to tell his tale. Each and every one of them truly embodies their character and brings them to life, again to the point where you feel deeply for their situation. Balfe, Dornan, Dench, Hinds, and newcomer Jude Hill all deserve tremendous accolades for their work, making it absolutely no surprise that they nabbed a nomination for Best Cast from the Screen Actors Guild (on top of an individual nod for Balfe, and two Oscar nominations for Hinds and Dench).
Aside from the outstanding cast, the film has many other qualities to admire, including Haris Zambarloukos' gorgeous cinematography, Jim Clay's excellent production design, Charlotte Walter's impeccable costumes, and, of course, Branagh's Oscar-nominated direction. All of these elements combine into a remarkable character-driven experience that pulls you in from the start, which is even more impressive given the somewhat simplistic story. However, this is exactly what can happen when you take the time to flesh-out and establish your characters, which, again, are coming from a uniquely personal place. What we're left with is a very special film, and one of the very best that 2021 had to offer.
"Belfast" comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. Every frame of the film looks fantastic, highlighting the gorgeous black & white cinematography, as well as the splendid production design and costumes. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all of the dialogue and soundtrack in excellent quality. Overall, it can easily be said that Branagh's multi-Oscar-nominee makes a stunning home debut that shines in both departments.
Feature Commentary with Kenneth Branagh: A fascinating track with the writer/director/co-producer filled with behind the scenes tidbits.
A City of Stories: The Making of Belfast (10 Minutes): An intriguing behind the scenes look at the making of the film, featuring interviews with Branagh and the cast.
Everyone's Inner Child (2 Minutes): A brief featurette that has Branagh and the cast reminiscing about their childhoods.
Deleted Scenes (3 Minutes, 3 Scenes) and Alternate Ending (6 Minutes)
Kenneth Branagh's "Belfast" is a remarkable nostalgic tale conjured from the depths of his own childhood, featuring a brilliant cast and top-notch technical & design elements. The narrative may lean towards being a bit simplistic, but Branagh more than makes up for it by going above and beyond in creating deeply-felt and unforgettable characters that grab you from the start and never let go. "Belfast" is one of the best films of 2021, and is not to be missed.
Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
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