On not reviewing Branagh’s ‘Belfast’

A few people have asked me if I’d seen Branagh’s sepia-tinged movie about Belfast. I haven’t. I also don’t intend to. I’m sure it’s great, but it’s not for me.

Kenneth Branagh racconta 'Belfast': "Ci ho messo due mesi a girarlo e una  vita a concepirlo" - la Repubblica
Branagh on set.

I grew up literally one street away, the other side of a fence we euphemistically call a peace line. That fence is there today. It wasn’t there in the Seventies.

“Peace” line in North Belfast.

In this Google Maps image you can see where my house was (those ones are new). You can also see KAT (standing for ‘Kill all Taigs (Catholics)’ written on the wall. That’s today, nearly three decades into a peace process. If you can’t imagine what it was like at the height of a civil war, there’s plenty of archival news footage available.

I expect Ken would have made a very different movie had he grown up in the city at that time, as I did. Actually, I expect he’d not be making movies at all. So no, I haven’t seen it and won’t see it. It’s not something I care to revisit, in Ken’s sepia tones or in any other format.

It’s not a tribal thing. I’m proud of Ken and always have been. I’ve loved his work since the ‘Billy’ plays. But Ken’s Belfast and mine, though they almost overlap, are hugely different. When the civil war euphemistically known as the ‘Troubles’ erupted in 1969, Ken’s family quite sensibly emigrated.

What they left behind, and what my family moved into (after being threatened out of their home in a different part of town), was a North Belfast that quickly became a patchwork quilt of paramilitary loyalties, rival tribalisms, brute violence and war.

I really admire Branagh for never shying away from his origins, and also for the sensitivity he has always brought to the topic. But, to use a word in today’s parlance, I find this somewhat triggering. More pertinently, I’m not the intended audience for this.