In recent years, Kenneth Branagh has been indulging in grandiose, expansive storytelling, be it Marvel (Thor), Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express; the upcoming Death on the Nile) or young adult adaptations (Artemis Fowl).
For his latest film, Belfast, Branagh steadfastly scales everything back to a more intimate level. And the end result has seen his best critical responses in years: following its UK premiere at the 2021 London Film Festival, Belfast has been praised as a tender, warm-hearted coming-of-age drama. And a new trailer has arrived indicating the film's tone.
Sensational screen newcomer Jude Hill lights up the proceedings as the tenacious Buddy, a young boy growing up amidst the Troubles in 1970s Belfast. Branagh took a lot of inspiration from his own childhood, resulting in a drama that's shot through with grace notes of intimacy and authenticity.
The excellent supporting cast certainly gives it a lot of ballast. Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench bring gravitas and charisma as the various members of Buddy's family who are attempting to steer him through childhood trauma and political upheaval.
The film is lensed in black and white, which amplifies the aching sense of nostalgia. In a feature for Empire Magazine, Branagh said making the film "was a salutary experience". He added: "It made me confront what I have often felt in the years since leaving; that my life in Belfast was the last time I really knew who I was. Where the complete, secure and settled sense of identity was all-pervading. I knew who I was, where I belonged, and everybody around me seemed to know that about themselves too, and to be equally secure."
Could we be looking at an Oscars favourite? It sounds like nominations for Best Director and Best Cinematography (for Branagh regular Haris Zambarloukos) might be in the bag. Belfast is released on 25th February 2022.