KEnneth Branagh shamelessly recounts his feel-good memories of growing up in Belfast as the Troubles broke out in the late 1960s suffering from a perspective problem. Angled camera angles are rendered in flat, overly clean black and white; the film leans heavily on his deliberately biased child’s point of view. Nine-year-old Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill) hops, hops and hops through rows of chocolate box terrace houses to a bouncy Van Morrison soundtrack. Her family, which includes Judi Dench’s Granny and Pop and Ciarán Hinds, find solace in movies.
Buddy’s family is Protestant; their Catholic neighbors will soon be driven from their homes by sectarian hostility. Jamie Dornan’s father is a working laborer in England who returns home with a growing pile of unpaid bills and violence brewing in the streets. The impressionable Buddy is encouraged by a classmate to raid a supermarket; implausibly, Ma (Caitríona Balfe) drags him back to the heart of the violence to return a stolen box of laundry detergent.
The patina of nostalgia is used to avoid contextualizing The Troubles, from which the family feels separated. A 30-year conflict that began with civil rights protests boils down to a vague issue of “blood religion.” After all, Buddy’s crush is a Catholic. “She could be a vegetarian antichrist for all I want,” Dad reassures him.