The Past Is A Foreign Country #Belfast #filmreview

I was too young to understand the explosion of civil violence in Northern Ireland at the end of the 1960s but not so young that it didn’t soon register. But it didn’t seem relevant to my little life in rural Hampshire, any more than images from the Nigerian civil war or the Middle Eastern conflicts. It was to all intents and purposes a foreign country.

Is that how children today view Ukraine or is it better explained? I hope the latter.

It’s this realisation that makes the opening sequences of the film, Belfast such a jolt. Branagh uses a neat directorial trick at the start by showing us, in glorious UHD technicolour modern Belfast with its many cultural wonders. The camera swoops around iconic structures and art installations, eventually ending in a residential street where the colour quickly bleaches out, the cars disappear and children and adults, dressed for the late sixties and playing the games that were ubiquitous back then emerge.

It’s a neat shock, a clever device that lets us know that whatever we are going to see, it’s not like that anymore, however much some gangsters and other ne’er-do-wells would like it to return. The bigger shock for me is in the familiarity of that street. I never lived in a inner city as a child but I knew of those grey terraces, of the tarmac based games, dodging adult legs and accusations. It could be Average Town Anywhere. It wasn’t far removed from the daily experiences of so many.

And yet it was, or it was to be in short order. Soon enough simmering tensions between communities spilt over and the world tilted on its axis. Civilisation is but a thin veneer: was that ever more true than in those early days of the Troubles.

The film is seen through the eyes of a young lad, cheeky, resilient, home loving and adaptable yet confused by all the bursts of mayhem that swirled about him and then returning to the mean of a scabby-kneed pre teen. It’s based on Branagh’s own childhood and can’t help but stop me to think ‘that could have been me’. Sliding doors.

I’ve lived through riots in the early 80s and 2011. I’ve wondered how far the civil disturbances would go and the answer has been: not far. But let’s never forget the Troubles, whatever their historic context. Ask Kviv residents if they can actually believe it could happen there and yet it is.

Belfast is an enjoyable story, a fantastic performance by the young lead and uplifting, funny and heart warming at times. But it is also, at least to this old git, a reminder that our cracked, wobbly, one legged system of society is hopeless, irredeemably flawed and utterly and continually frustrating and yet… it’s a fuck sight better than any of the alternatives and on that I will give ground to no one.

Indeed when I think about it, I’d hate it to work too well; if it did we’d get more than complacent and then we really are stuffed

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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35 Responses to The Past Is A Foreign Country #Belfast #filmreview

  1. Sadje says:

    I must look for this movie Geoff. Fantastic review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Having lived, and served, in Northern Ireland, I know that the majority of people were, and are, normal, everyday, decent folk who wished that the minority would come to their senses and let everybody get on with their lives peacefully. That, I believe, applies all over the world!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I want to see this film.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. noelleg44 says:

    I’ve been meaning to see this. It sounds impactful – and I like the actors. Netflix here I come.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      One other commentator, Anabel who is the same age reminded me that we were always being told that there was a riot and rubber bullets were used. At the time that sounded like a toy but these days I realise how awful that must be.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a euphemism – the Troubles. Being a couple of years older than you, the situation did impinge on my consciousness quite a bit. It’s difficult to know but with hindsight, maybe it would have been better if Cromwell had never set foot in Ireland at all, although I seem to remember Elizabeth I’s generals invaded and occupied it because the Catholicism and possible alliance with Spain was seen as a threat.
    Many thanks for the review – would like to see this. It sounds as though the film does the conflict justice and comes from an authentic source (KB himself, who I was pleased to see won an Oscar for the screenplay) although, not having seen it, I hope the Catholic side was well represented too!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks Geoff – I too will track this down. One editorial question, regarding your sentence; “…then returning to the mean of a scabby need pre teen.” I’m missing something here. I get scabby and pre-teen of course, but what are you saying with “need”? Perhaps a typo (rare with you brother – but?) did you mean to type “nerd” perhaps or am I drifting off to dementia? A great review for a Branagh fan like me.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. One of our former brother-in-laws grew up in NI. He kept a rubber bullet in the mantelpiece. It was HUGE, not what I had imagined at all. It certainly sharpened my hazy impression of what the Troubles were like. Not seen Belfast yet, but I should.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. V.M.Sang says:

    I remember the troubles, Geoff. Bombs going off in towns and cities, injuring innocent bystanders. Horses killed and injured on Horseguards Parade, police killed and maimed. But we didn’t let the danger stop us from carrying out our everyday lives. People still visited London, went on holiday, etc.
    Nowadays, the idea of civilians being killed is looked on with horror and as unacceptable. Not that it’s stopped Putin, nor the Syrian regime, nor the many conflicts in Africa.
    However, it was accepted in WW2 that civilian casualties were to be expected and a part of war. Not so nowadays.
    Numbers killed, sometimes quoted in the hundreds, are, rightly considered too many, but they are not in the numbers of previous wars, when millions could be killed.
    I think that much of humanity has made strides in restricting war, except for these rogue dictators who are still managing to get and stay in power. Sadly, I suspect they will always manage to manipulate their people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I doubt we will ever be free of nutters and despots. Living in the New Forest during my teens it all seemed a world away . Then I went to University and some of those tensions began to seep in. I’d love to think they’d never come back but who knows

      Liked by 1 person

  9. willowdot21 says:

    Just shows how byoy can still have a wonderful childhood in terrible times 💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Widdershins says:

    Haven’t seen this KB offering yet, but I did catch his Hercule Poirot on the Nile the other night. Sumptuous, was the word that came to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. George says:

    A thoughtful and thought provoking post, Geoff. I must see Belfast, it sounds superb.

    Liked by 1 person

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