DRAMA; 1hr 37min
STARRING: Catriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Jude Hill
Fast ones: Balfe and Hill
For Belfast helmer Kenneth Branagh, August 15, 1969, is seared into memory. The triple-threat producer, director and actor doesn’t appear in his micro view of the Northern Ireland Troubles, but tied as their history is to his own childhood, his emotional imprint is everywhere.
The action opens on that fateful day, which, like fateful days throughout history, starts out deceptively mild. One minute nine-year-old Buddy (newbie Hill) is slaying dragons in his peaceable street with a toy sword and a trash-can lid, the next the sunny afternoon is smashed by a furious mob of Protestants explosively protesting the presence of Catholic families in their self-perceived enclave. As Buddy and his older brother, Will (Lewis McAskie), cower beneath the kitchen table, their helpless Ma (Outlander ’s Balfe, movie-star foxy in her minis) bears helpless witness to the molten hate.
Even with troops deployed and barricades erected in what is now a war zone in a fractured city, life behind the barbed wire ambles along to the catchy beats of Van Morrison, who looms large in the soundtrack with six numbers. Buddy busies himself with being a kid. He has a crush on a girl in his class (Olive Tennant). He hangs out with his grandparents (Dench and Hinds). He grapples with long division. His Pa (Dornan) is less sanguine, urging his resistant wife to up stakes to the UK.
Regardless of the big, depressing picture, we’re essentially talking kitchen sink here. Shot by Harris Zambarloukos (Locke) in nostalgic black-and-white, Branagh’s affectionate screenplay commemorates the enterprise of a child’s-eye view that unwittingly makes lemonade from lemons. The film is dedicated to “…the ones who stayed…the ones who left [and] all the ones who were lost.” That its fictional family takes their chances with a new beginning is the crowning irony in their struggle to hold tight to the meaning of home.