Kenneth Branagh’s heart-wrenching family drama based loosely on his own childhood in the capital of Northern Ireland is a very personal account of growing up in the midst of a civil war. Set in 1969 when Branagh was just nine years old and when the violent conflict between the Protestant and Catholic populations was at its very worse. Branagh’s focus is not on the internecine warfare, which frankly was/is always hard to understand by anyone outside the Province, but instead, he draws us into how it affected a young working-class Protestant and their daily struggle to survive.
The story is told by 9-year-old Buddy (a startling wonderful Jude Hill) who, like the audience, is trying to fathom out all the daily disruption to his life. He and his older brother (Lewis McAskie) live in a small terraced house (complete with an outside toilet) with their mother (Caitriona Balfe), who may not be the family’s breadwinner, but she is its very soul. With unemployment at such an astronomical high, father (Jamie Dornan), commutes to England frequently to work as a constructor. Buddy’s grandmother and grandfather (Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds) weary of the years of the conflicts, also live nearby
The real beauty of Branagh’s story is the relationships within Buddy’s family, starting with that of his grandparents and their long-term marriage that is still as fresh as the day they met. His parents straddling the difficult choice they will evitable have to make between their deep-rooted bond with their neighbors and the local community and their own children is so wonderfully played. Most of the credit must go to the extremely talented Caitriona Balfe who is simply pitch-perfect as the family matriarch. In the midst of such a superb cast, she and young Jude Hill are a sheer joy to watch.
Branagh’s own touches of genius such as filming in back and white, and engaging Van Morrison to select the music add to the pleasure of a film that is sure to be rewarded with a few gongs in the next few months.
If you go expecting to learn more about what these two sides were fighting about so tragically for too many years, then you will be disappointed. And pay attention too as the Ulster drawl can occasionally be tough to follow.