MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
There is no end to coming-of-age stories about youth and how a person must learn to put childhood behind, but not as many tales that celebrate the enduring innocence of childhood. Whenever I read a memoir that includes the early years of a person’s life, I am astonished at how a child’s imagination and resiliency can rise above difficult times.
Writer-director Kenneth Branagh, aware of the anxieties of Covid-19, wanted to make a film that offered joy and hope to the world. He returned to his memories of growing up in Belfast, Ireland in the late 1960s during the time of “the Troubles”, an ongoing and often violent confrontation in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics. His father left the country to find work in Great Britain and eventually had the family join him, as they moved to a safer homeland.
In Belfast, Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film, we look at the world through 9-year-old Buddy’s (Hill) eyes. As he runs through the streets of the neighborhood with a wooden sword and a garbage can lid as a shield, there is a sudden act of violence. His mother (Balfe) comes to his rescue, using the makeshift shield to deflect the rocks that come sailing their way. It’s a strange juxtaposition between tragedy and comedy as well as a clever way to show a mother’s fierce and protective love for her child.
Buddy’s world is not defined by the conflict in the streets but by the love of his family and neighbors. Everyone lives within walking distance of each other so Buddy is able to visit his grandmother and grandfather (Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds) and go on wild adventures with Moira, a slightly older girl (a delightful Lara McDonnell) who is his protector but also the person who provokes Buddy to get into mildly risky situations.
In addition to a loving family, Buddy escapes to the cinema, where he enters into the fantastic worlds of One Million Years B.C. and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (Belfast also reminds us that most people watched the Star Trek television show on small screen black-and-white TVs.)
The hellfire-and-brimstone sermons that Buddy hears in church don’t seem to have much of an impact on anyone. Even the preacher who appears judgmental in the pulpit is a welcome presence and friend to the parish in which he serves. In yet another many grace notes, Buddy shows signs of affection for a little blonde girl at school who is Roman Catholic.
There are instances in which sentimentality pushes over into corniness and some of the moments of conflict are resolved a bit too neatly, but I am willing to forgive its small missteps. Belfast is a lovely little film. Its main message is that love, forgiveness, tolerance and mercy can break through and shine even during troubled times. It was true then and it is our best hope now.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A deeply sentimental and heartfelt film that celebrates love, family, community, and acts of grace.
Two pitchforks: Scenes of violence and looting; shoplifting; occasional strong language; enthusiastic drinking of alcohol.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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