A series of feelgood vignettes, largely through the eyes of a child (Jude Hill) in 1969 Belfast during “the Troubles”, Kenneth Branagh’s film is at times charming, and at others, a bit wince-inducing. There are beautiful, funny and tender moments, and then there are some scenes that are almost as head-scratching as the annoyingly off-kilter soundtrack (Van Morrison is meant for listening, not for accompanying a film; the songs – and there are 10 of them! – jut into the narrative with all the subtlety of . . . well . . . Van Morrison).
The film falters because of tone – at one moment, we see a world so idyllic as to be fantastical, almost a Busch Gardens-meets-The Quiet Man version of Ireland – and then it is interrupted by religious and sectarian violence that in and of itself seems ridiculous in its staginess. All well and good, if we accept that we are seeing this story through the eyes of child. Similarly, we can also accept the Sergio Leon-esque confrontation between street thug and father followed by that same father crooning to his wife in an MTV-esque episode.
But then we have to slog through Branagh’s more mundane and serious depiction of the family in crisis (should they stay in Belfast or go). It’s almost as if you were confronted with a real discussion as to the atrocities of the Nazis in JoJo Rabbit (which some dunkelheads suggested should have been the case).
There is also a dissonance between the father (played by a very weak Jamie Dornan, more hair model than working class hero) and the mother (Caitriona Balfe), who acts rings around him.
Bottom line – what’s good is good, and Hill is winning, but it’s a bit of a mess.