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Kenneth Branagh
Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench
Writing Credits:
Kenneth Branagh

Nine-year-old Buddy deals with local strife in late 1960s Northern Ireland.

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 7.1
English DVS
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 3/1/2022

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kenneth Branagh
• Deleted Scenes & Alternate Ending with Optional Commentary
• “A City of Stories” Featurette
• “Everyone’s Inner Child” Featurette


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Belfast [Blu-Ray] (2021)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 22, 2022)

Kenneth Branagh earned his first Oscar nomination as Best Director for 1989’s Henry V. It took him 32 years, but Branagh finally got his second nod via 2021’s Belfast.

Loosely based on Branagh’s own life, the film takes us to Northern Ireland in the late 1960s. Nine-year-old Buddy (Jude Hill) lives with his Ma (Caitríona Balfe), older brother Will (Lewis McAskie) and grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds) while his Pa (Jamie Dornan) works in England.

In August 1969, riots occur in Belfast, and these impact Buddy’s street. When Pa returns home, he feels pressure to join the “cause”, which creates repercussions we follow from Buddy’s point of view.

Given the umpty-skillion “coming of age” movies produced over the years, new entries in the genre need to find something fresh to do with the subject matter. At the very least, even if a story in this domain doesn’t reinvent wheels, it needs to give us something high quality enough to overcome the usual clichés.

Belfast falls into the latter category. Nothing about the film finds a new way to invest in the genre, but Branagh creates an engaging look back nonetheless.

Much of the impact stems from the way Branagh stages Belfast, as he leans toward Buddy’s POV. This doesn’t occur literally, but it maintains the story’s primary effect.

This means that even when Buddy doesn’t explicitly witness an event – like a discussion between his parents that occurs while he sleeps – Branagh still stages the scene as if from Buddy’s perspective. For instance, in this scene, the camera views Buddy’s parents from his location.

Branagh doesn’t get precious about this, but he allows this technique to give Belfast the impression that we see events from a child’s attitude. In lesser hands, this might mean that the movie seems dumbed down or cheesy, but instead, the approach lends a sense of innocence that suits the film.

Really, it’s because Branagh doesn’t go over the top with this approach that it works. If he played out the POV in a more overt manner, it would become annoying, but this style remains subtle enough to give the film a sense of child-like freshness without cheap theatrics.

The names of the characters reflect this approach. Branagh chooses to just refer to adults as “Pa”, “Ma” and the like because that’s how Buddy would relate to them. While this could seem cutesy, it makes sense within the film’s universe.

Branagh also keeps the scope appropriately modest, as Belfast remains steadfastly focused on Buddy’s family. While the story leans toward a much bigger topic via the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, the emphasis on Buddy’s view allows for the movie to seem intimate.

Branagh benefits from a quality cast, of course, and all do nice work. They avoid the temptation to overplay their parts and they add to the movie’s impression of honesty.

As implied earlier, I can’t find anything about Belfast that I think elevates it far above other entries in its genre. Nonetheless, it brings us an engaging and involving little coming of age drama.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

Belfast appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a solid presentation.

Sharpness was strong most of the time. Despite a handful of slightly soft shots, the majority of the flick felt accurate and well-defined.

No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement remained absent. Source flaws also failed to create problems.

After a brief color look at modern-day Belfast, the film switched to black and white and stayed there for the vast majority of the tale. The rare color elements boasted nice range and vivacity.

Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows showed good delineation. All of this left us with a quality transfer.

Despite the movie’s character orientation, its DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack boasted more involvement than expected. Of course, the smattering of violent scenes – such as the pivotal assault early in the story – created an absorbing sense of place and used the channels well.

Quieter scenes worked nicely too, as we got a lot of localized speech and general environmental material that seemed appropriately placed and balanced. Music brought positive presence as well, so this added up to a much better than anticipated soundfield.

Audio quality was fine. Speech sounded natural and distinctive, without edginess or other issues, while music was bright and full.

Effects were clean and accurate, with fine low-end as necessary. This was a stronger than expected soundtrack for a character piece.

As we shift to extras, we launch with an audio commentary from writer/director Kenneth Branagh. He provides a running, screen-specific look at story/characters, factual material, liberties and personal impressions, cast and performances, sets and locations, music, photography, the impact of COVID on the production, and connected domains.

From start to finish, Branagh provides a strong commentary. He mixes reflections of his childhood and historical elements with filmmaking domains to make this a thoroughly enjoyable chat.

Two featurettes follow, and A City of Stories runs nine minutes, 47 seconds. It includes notes from Branagh, production designer Jim Clay, costume designer Charlotte Walter, and actors Ciarán Hinds, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Lara McDonnell, Lewis McAskie, and Jude Hill.

“City” examines story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, and costumes. This becomes a fairly superficial overview.

Everyone’s Inner Child goes for one minute, 54 seconds and features Branagh, Hinds, Dench, Dornan and Balfe as they relate some childhood memories. It seems insubstantial but amusing.

In addition to an Alternate Ending (5:36), we find three Deleted Scenes. Those occupy a total of two minutes, 44 seconds.

The “Ending” features Branagh as modern-day Buddy on his return to Belfast after many years. It’s interesting to see as a Blu-ray extra but would feel out of place in the final film.

As for the “Deleted Scenes”, they offer minor additions to the story. While enjoyable, they don’t add much of substance.

We can view the “Alternate Ending” and the deleted scenes with or without commentary from Branagh. He gives us some good notes about the sequences.

A look back at his childhood, Kenneth Branagh delivers a quality ‘coming of age’ tale with Belfast. Aided by a good cast and an interesting perspective, the film becomes an engaging drama. The Blu-ray offers solid picture and audio along with a mix of bonus materials. Belfast delivers a likable effort.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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