Kenneth Branagh’s depiction of the Belfast of his childhood offers the most remarkable of contrasts – the gentlest of touches amidst the horror of the worsening Troubles.
Occasionally, just occasionally, things get perhaps just a little oversweet, but maybe that’s needed amid the deepening nightmare the family are facing.
Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe are a working-class Protestant couple in a Catholic street in a largely Protestant area in 1969 – and their view, beautifully expressed by Dornan as Pa, is that if you show kindness and decency it doesn’t matter what you are, “vegetarian anti-Christ” or whatever denomination you want.
But his view goes against the way the tide is flowing. The Protestant gangs want the Catholics out and they view Pa and his family as traitors for living amongst them.
The film starts with an almost twee-ly elegiac vision of a happy street, children playing, adults chatting and getting on with their work. And then all of a sudden the gangs arrive and the violence erupts.
It’s a shocking moment – all the more so for the fact that we are viewing it all through the lens of Buddy, a superb eye-opening performance from ten-year-old Jude Hill as Pa’s younger son.
Hill is a young actor we are going to be seeing an awful lot of if this is anything to go by. He has a remarkable presence, wide-eyed innocence amid all the ghastliness, but resilience too, devoted to his grandparents Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench and quietly, unrequitedly in love with a girl at school.
There are lovely moments as he studies hard – simply to move up the class rankings so that he can sit closer to his brainy beloved.
But there are other temptations too. There is an equally lovely scene which sees Buddy sucked into some very ham-fisted shoplifting, ending up with a piece of Turkish Delight no one wants.
But a tougher world is about to move in. Resisting the gangs himself, Pa urges his children not to get sucked into them either. But the violence starts to seem irresistible.
The film is dedicated to those that stayed, to those that left and to those that lost their lives. For this particular family, the big question is when to go.
Dornan’s character works away in London – and is keen for his family to follow. Caitríona Balfe – in the film’s finest adult performance as the mother of the house – is unsure. This is where they live.
The presence of the grandparents complicates things further, Hinds the kindly philosopher granddad full of wisdom and full of tenderness, Dench his wife ever ready with a cheeky put-down.
It’s an awful dilemma for the everyone – and it is conveyed persuasively and powerfully in this beautiful film.
It is screened in black and white which is effective. The family’s trips to the cinema and theatre see them watching things in colour – which feels odd. If colour is supposed to represent escape, then it’s a little heavy-handed. But it is one of very few jarring notes.