Oscar Countdown: “Belfast” is a dramatic, affecting coming-of-age tale

While the movie drags in the middle, it is an emotional journey set during the political unrest in late 60s Ireland


Courtesy Focus Features

“Belfast,” nominated for six Oscars, is a coming-of-age story set during the political turmoil of late 60s Ireland.

Over the next month, the Pepper Bough staff is celebrating the 94th Academy Awards by reviewing each of this year’s crop of Best Picture nominees. We will be looking at two movies per week, plus a few other notable nominees, leading up to Oscar night on Sunday, March 27.

“Belfast” was released on September 2, 2021, and was recently nominated for six academy awards, including best picture. It is a personal coming-of-age drama based on the childhood of its director, Kenneth Branagh .

It begins in modern day Belfast, Ireland, then cuts back to Belfast in 1969.

Our main character is nine-year-old Buddy (Jude Hills), who we first meet playing with a wooden sword and a garbage lid as a shield until one of his friends notifies him that his mom (Caitriona Balfe) is calling him. While on the way to his house, he just stops in his tracks. Everything goes blurry and we focus on Buddy’s face. Then the camera cuts to where Buddy is looking—at a big group of people shouting. One of them throws a molotov cocktail.

Buddy’s coming-of-age story is dramatic and affecting. He goes from someone who is not considerate about his family troubles into someone who is more considerate about his family’s troubles.

At a runtime of 1 hour and 37 minutes, “Belfast” keeps us interested with its very good camerawork, especially the use of close up shots. Its black-and-white look really emphasizes the fact that the story takes place in a very different time when there was a lot of violence and turmoil. 

Which reminds me of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the novel released in 1962, which was also adapted into a black-and-white movie despite having the technology to make it a colored film. That film, like “Belfast,” also had a deeper meaning about a time of violence and turmoil. The characters of Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Buddy are very similar. They are both living in difficult times in history where they needed a person to give them valuable life lessons.  

All that aside, despite “Belfast” having all the great actors and camera angles, it does come at a cost. A very boring cost. Near the halfway point of the film it gets very slow. A five-minute scene feels like 10 or 20 minutes. 

Counteracting all these boring, long parts, there’s conflict between characters and a great subplot between Pa (Jamie Dornan) and Billy Clanton (Colin Morgan), which becomes very tense, and by the end of the movie comes full circle.

Overall, “Belfast” is a great movie to watch if you have time. It is very emotional and really does justice to showing what people were dealing with during late 60s Ireland.