“Belfast” is loosely based on Kenneth Branagh’s childhood and follows a young boy (played by newcomer Jude Hill) in Belfast, Northern Ireland at the beginning of The Troubles in 1969.
Branagh recalls being uprooted from Northern Ireland and moving to England with his family.
“I think, I never really got over being uprooted, fairly savagely, along with everybody else in that part of the world from whatever their previous way of life had been into one where we were on a sort of code red high alert for a life changed by the conflict that began to be expressed very explicitly between the Catholic and Protestant population, at least in its extreme elements,” Branagh told Steve Pond as part of TheWrap’s screening series. “And into that mix came the British military. And this awful period, this dark and tragic period of the troubles began.”
Branagh spoke with TheWrap alongside Ciarán Hinds, who co-stars in the film. The main cast also includes Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, and Judi Dench.
“What was great for us all was we knew this film, this personal boyhood story, was touching so many people,” Hinds said. “That in itself was kind of a huge reward and deeply gratifying.”
Hinds, who was born in Belfast, is nominated for a Best Supporting actor Oscar for his role in the film. He noted with a bit of humor that he’s now learning to navigate awards season after years of acting.
“All of this that has come afterwards, with more support from the industry and people pushing the film to be rewarded in many ways, is quite revelatory to me, never having sort of gone in this direction,” he said. “The circumstances are extraordinary for me being here. It’s very pleasant and you also get to meet some fantastic people.”
Branagh went on to discuss the heartbreak of leaving his home.
“I think, many hearts in our family were broken even though we knew that the decision made, for what it was worth, was that the economic security of a job for my father, the relative safety, it would seem of the two young, impressionable, perhaps vulnerable kids was something that took priority over what we definitely were identified by which was being part of a community that we knew that we loved,” he said. “We previously lived harmoniously, within a big, large, extended family that was full of aunts and uncles and cousins, and, I would say security and peace.”
In its review of the film from TIFF, TheWrap wrote, “Visually stunning, emotionally wrenching and gloriously human, “Belfast” takes one short period from Branagh’s life and finds in it a coming-of-age story, a portrait of a city fracturing in an instant and a profoundly moving lament for what’s been lost during decades of strife in his homeland of Northern Ireland. Plus it’s funny as hell – because if anybody knows how to laugh in the face of tragedy, it’s the Irish.”
During the early part of the lockdown in 2020, Branagh said he was finally compelled to write the script.
“That sense of the abrupt and uncomfortable leaving of Belfast came swimming back to occupy my mind and spirit during the early part of the lockdown where an uncertainty and unpredictability about where all of our lives were going in an unvaccinated world,” he said.
Branagh, whose script received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay added: “It suddenly after 50 years, couldn’t not be written, it had to come out.”
“Belfast” is nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.
You can watch the full interview here.