Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is a movie about the Troubles that isn’t really about the Troubles at all. It is based on a childhood diary, which has been meticulously crafted to be an Oscar frontrunner, and it covers the winter months of 1969, when sectarian violence rocked Northern Ireland. It’s now known as the start of a three-decade conflict, with wounds still far from healed.

The Troubles is primarily about the central dispute, which pits two parents against one another as they make the most difficult decision of their lives: do they abandon Belfast and the only home they’ve ever known in order to safeguard their two young kids? They are a Protestant family who live in a majority-Protestant neighborhood without causing trouble with their Catholic neighbors. But for some, not taking a side is tantamount to choosing a side. The fire and shattering glass are indiscriminate.

Despite all of this, there is a lopsidedness to Belfast’s perspective, which comes out just as skewed as the Dutch angles that Branagh has used as a director. Buddy (Jude Hill) serves as a proxy for Branagh’s own childhood self while witnessing events through the eyes of his father, who becomes increasingly hard-hearted and abusive. Every time Buddy climbs into the seat of a local auditorium and looks up in awe at a showing of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or A Christmas Carol, the movie reverberates with enthusiasm. Above all, Belfast exists to show how its director, who would one day become that multi-hyphenate British artist known for his exuberant interpretations of Shakespeare as well as his over-the-top performances in the Harry Potter movies, was born there.

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