Belfast, by Kenneth Branagh

A week ago (wow, it’s been such a long week) the British Mission to the EU and the Northern Irish representative office jointly put on a showing of the Kenneth Branagh film Belfast at the Bozar in central Brussels.

It was just lovely to actually have a physical reception, after two years when it was very difficult. The British Ambassador made a wee speech:

Also the Northern Ireland deputy representative made a wee speech; and my friend Paul took photos, in the first of which my back is visible at the left.

Probably the majority of us in the crowd were Norn Iron exiles in Brussels; a few arty people had come over specially for the occasion, but basically this was UKMis showing that it was a good social actor; and succeeding.

Here’s the official trailer.

So, what did I think of the film?

I was born in 1967, so I was about 2 at the point that the events of the film unfold. (Though apparently “helicopter” – or “ally-agga” – was one of my first words, as we saw them zoom west over the garden.) A lot of it doesn’t really speak true to the Belfast experience. Nobody ever wandered down the streets with flaming torches. There were no Indian corner shops, and no ethnic minority teachers. There was no wee Catholic girl in the Protestant school. The bus to the airport didn’t exactly stop in side streets to pick people up. The houses were (and are) much smaller. The accents are much stronger in real life.

At the same time, one can forgive a lot of this for the sake of Art. Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds and Judy Dench are all actors who I knew anyway; I have seen one episode of Outlander starring Caitriona Balfe and now I have a strange impulse to see more. And young Jude Hill, from my ancestral part of the world, is glorious as the main character. The (Oscar-winning) script really crackles.

Pa: It’s all bloody religion. That’s the problem.
Buddy: Then why are you sending us to church?
Pa: Because your granny would kill me if I didn’t.

Pop: [to Buddy] Women are very mysterious.
Granny: And women can smash your face in too, mister.
Pop: Your granny’s become less mysterious over the years.

(After the supermarket has been looted)
Ma: Why did you take that washing powder?
Buddy: It’s biological!

Having said that, there’s no real interrogation of why the Troubles started in the first place. I think it would have been helpful for the audience to know that decades of injustice and discrimination do eventually bring the chickens home to roost. The impression given is that violence erupted purely out of sectarianism and bigotry at local level, which is far from the whole truth.

Having said that, I think almost all of us in Bozar related to the central dilemma of Buddy’s parents in the film; will you stay or will you go? And from the mere fact that we were in Brussels, we were all exiles, whether permanently or temporarily; and it was easy to relate to the problem of leaving a city that you love, and yet where you can’t live, and risking everything on a foreign venture. It works for a lot of people; it worked for Kenneth Branagh’s family and mine; it doesn’t work for everyone, and before you do it you don’t know what category you’ll end up in.

So yeah. I liked it, warts and all.