Writer and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh digs through the warm and homely entrails of his childhood in this semi-autobiographical homage to his beloved Belfast. Chronicling the life of a young working-class family from two sides, that of the 9-year-old boy with rose-tinted glasses and that of his hardworking protestant Father; A Father who wants a better and safer life for his family away from the religious violence that is threatening to destroy their beloved home town.
Set in 1969 under the enigmatic hue of a monochrome lens, Branagh doesn’t shy away from the extremist violence Northern Ireland endured during this turbulent time. Neither does Branagh let the violence overpower the affectionate and witty scripted tone of such a loving and loyal family torn between their home and the chance of a better life in England.
Jamie Dornan takes on the role of Pa, a protestant family man with all Irish charm you would expect; living amid a district mixed with both Protestants and Catholics. With jobs scarce, Pa works over in England, returning home to the bosom of his loving family every other weekend. Having amassed a huge debt with the Inland Revenue, stay at home Ma (Caitriona Balfe) takes control of the finances painstakingly making sure every last penny is paid back while looking after their kids, Will (Lewis McAskie) and Buddy, played by newcomer Jude Hill.
Without a doubt, it’s the cheeky little chappy Buddy who steals every scene with his doe-eyed innocence, scared by the onslaught of violence against the Catholics led by local criminal and protestant thug Billy Clanton, but not wholly understanding the implications of it for his family. Striving to be the top of his class so he can sit next to the girl of his dreams when Buddy finally gets that much-coveted seat he releases his efforts managed to push her to the seat behind him. With his Father constantly away he relies on his plain-speaking grandparents, Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench, for advice on how to win the girl’s heart.
To add to its charm, the wholesome moments come when the family are together as a whole, depicting maybe Branagh’s family moments in trips to the cinema, where Pa is accused of wanting to see the latest Bond purely for the sight of Raquel Welch in a Bikini or their little sing-a-long moments to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
From pitch-perfect performances from its actors to an affectionate innocence of a romanticised childhood, Branagh adds his welcoming flare to the history pages of time with an enchanting and wholesome love letter.