It's a handsomely-made film with a game cast, and it's clear that it's a very special project for Branagh. But the filmmaker is unable to convey to us, his audience, why it's so special.
What are people saying?
What are critics saying?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and this scattershot crowd-pleaser renders them both in such broad strokes that it seems as if Branagh can only imagine the Belfast of his youth as a brogue-accented blend of other movies like it.
Branagh's genuine affection and nostalgia for his subject suffuse the movie; if only the misty romanticism of his story could match it.
The parts of the movie that are going to resonate the most have the pacing they need to bring up one’s own memories of listening to a grandparent’s advice, of doing something you shouldn’t have to impress someone, or working up the nerve to talk to someone you liked. Perhaps these resurfaced memories are an unintended souvenir of visiting Branagh’s “Belfast,” but it’s one that may stick with moviegoers for quite some time after the credits roll.
The affectionate cine-memoir is rendered all the more effective on account of young discovery Jude Hill and its portrayal of a close-knit family (Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench and stay-put grandparents) crowded under one roof.
Branagh’s most personal film is imperfect, but the emotion that it builds in the final section, as the family plays out a wrenching universal drama of emigration, is searing.
The film feels true in the way it must be exploring Branagh’s memories of a tumultuous and confusing time, and the way it pays tribute to a vibrant community as that community is irrevocably changed.