A Quiet Rise and Not Much to Pay Off

If you’re in the Northern Ireland of the 1960s, as I was, and you stumble on this film, which, with some pre-warnings, is well worth seeing, you may find yourself wondering why, despite the…

If you’re in the Northern Ireland of the 1960s, as I was, and you stumble on this film, which, with some pre-warnings, is well worth seeing, you may find yourself wondering why, despite the level of acting in the main roles and even Luhrmann’s cheeky interweaving of major events in the lives of the people involved in this piece, it’s not called Ken Blomkamp. Why not Lord Kenneth Branagh? (Even little Ten-mile Lane is pitched at a historical blindness.) This is quite a big payoff that all the dancing and singing and the delirious “disco” of the soundtrack does not pay off.

The film is a melancholy retrospective, and indeed in 1961, the following year when this is set, Ken was probably one of those precious and indestructible sources of joy in the Belfast of the Troubles. He played the most outlandishly complex roles on stage and screen, loved by crowds and critics — but most of all the way down his ego. But somewhere along the way, this self-aggrandizing public figure (for personal reasons, he abandoned his role in Laurence Olivier’s 1961 film Henry V and Paul Scofield’s play Waiting for Godot) got mixed up with power and was pretty much terminated by the IRA, while his whole world was destroyed in the crash of the Twin Towers and the atrocities of Sept. 11.

Belfast is a leisurely, festooned fantasia that recalls none of the controversies and dislocations in the history of the Anglo-Irish border, nor of living, enduring terrorism, whatever to its fans Belfast was still more or less like — or was hope for — in 1960 — on Ken’s left in stirring young minds. As Belfast journalist and documentary maker Henry Oliver comments at one of the film’s stages, Ken was “in effect working the graveyard shift.”

Related: What Ken-isms do you need to know about the making of Kenneth Branagh’s new ‘bromance’

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