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Branagh Does a Billy Elliot

The same charm, humour and pathos that made Billy Elliot such a wonderful film back in 2000 also makes the new movie, Belfast, a must see today.

Billy took the desperate backdrop of Thatcher and the Miners’ Strike and created a

world of sensitivity, raw emotion and resilience. And in Belfast, Kenneth Branagh has used the ugly touch-point of the Northern Ireland Troubles in 1969 to mould an equally touching and life-affirming social drama.

On 15 August 1969, a lovely summer’s day, young Kenneth’s real-life world in Belfast was torn asunder when Protestant rioters stormed his street attacking Catholics. The Troubles were here and, although Protestants themselves, life was never the same again for Ken and his family.

Branagh has used this memory, seared into his soul, recreating the feel and essence of that day and its aftermath and paying a repectful tribute to the people of Belfast and the City itself.

Sir Kenneth Branagh

Belfast and Billy Elliot are very individual films, with their own identities, but constant similarities tie them together. Young Billy, young Ken (Buddy in the movie). Ballet and the future for Billy, the idea of moving away from Belfast to England and a fresh start for Ken/Buddy. The ugly scenes of the Miners’ Strike and fights with massed ranks for the police for Billy Elliot, the same violence and the threat of it with rioters and the British Army for Belfast.

And throughout each film, clipped lines of humour, the struggles of family life faced with fear and the unknown, characters living day to day, and in both movies superb, mature, lead-performances from child stars Jamie Bell in Billy and Belfast’s Jude Hill.

The whole cast of Belfast is outstanding with major performances from the key players – Jude Hill, Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Doman (Buddy’s parents) and Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds (his grandparents). Caitriona especially is sensational.

The cast at a premier.

Just as Billy Elliot was not a film about the Strike itself, so Belfast is not a documentary on the NI Troubles. It is a stylised drama using the reality and power of the day and revealing the harsh choices and deep divisions that were so engrained in the City.

Like so many others in Belfast at that time, Ken and his family had to make the awful decision whether to stay or to move away to England. At the end of his beautiful film, Kenneth Branagh pays tribute to all those who left, who stayed and the many who were lost.

Belfast – showing in cinemas and On Demand

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