Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 2 February 2022

Film review: Belfast

Worth watching portrayal of previously airbrushed workers' unity


Belfast   (Click to enlarge)

Niall Mulholland, East London Socialist Party

Kenneth Branagh's semi-biographical film opens with images of modern-day Belfast, and then moves back in time (in black and white) to 15 August 1969, and the soundtrack of Van Morrison.

Most of the film is from nine-year-old Buddy's (Jude Hill) point of view. He has all the distractions of a boy - a crush on a schoolgirl friend, ambitions to be a footballer, trying incompetently to steal chocolate from a corner shop - while all around him the city descends into sectarian conflict.

Buddy's father (Jimmy Dornan) works as a joiner in England, is heavily in debt, and returns home every few weeks, leaving his mother (Caitríona Balfe) to bring up Buddy and his older brother, Will (Lewis McAskie).

The close-knit Protestant family includes Granny (Judi Dench) and Pop (Ciarán Hinds), who is sick with a disease caused by working as a miner near Leicester. Their working-class house has an outside toilet, like many at the time. The family finds escape at the movies, where we see, for a short spell, colour on the screen.

Light and dark

The opening scene has all the light and dark that pervades Belfast. Buddy plays with his bin-lid shield and a wooden sword on his busy and friendly working-class Victorian street.

The sunny day is shattered by a rioting mob that has come to burn out the street's minority of Catholics. The residents resist the intruders.

A barricade is erected at the end of the street and manned by 'vigilantes'. British troops, ordered into Northern Ireland the day before by the Harold Wilson Labour government, smash through the barricade, but it is set up again.

Critics have found Belfast sentimental, a 'chocolate box' version of events. The film does have its weaknesses, and not just that it can be mawkish.

There are passing references to the civil rights struggle, but no real context - no explanation about the 50 years of Unionist state misrule and repression of Catholics. Nor is there any examination of why many Protestant working-class people had fears and concerns for their future, which were whipped up by bigoted politicians.

But whatever its weaknesses, the scenes of courageous efforts by working-class Protestant and Catholic neighbours to stop sectarian attacks ripping their communities apart - an aspect of 'Troubles' history that has been largely airbrushed out of most accounts - if for no other reason, does Belfast credit and means it deserves to be widely seen.

Local 'defence committees' and 'peace patrols' sprang up in many parts of Belfast and beyond in 1969, as Catholics and Protestants living in 'mixed areas' instinctively drew together to oppose sectarian pogroms. Trade union shop stewards in the industrial workplaces played a key role in organising workers against attempts by bigots to divide workers.


Tragically, the leadership of the labour and trade union movement did not draw all these actions together in a powerful force to push back the bigots, and to unite workers around a fight for jobs and decent homes for all, and against the sectarian 'Orange' and 'Green' bosses. An all-out civil war was avoided in 1969 and the early 1970s, but thousands were forced out of their homes, hundreds killed and sectarian divisions greatly enhanced.

By the film's end, the local thug who tries to wean Buddy's brother Will into his emerging loyalist gang is on the ascendance. He threatens Buddy's father, who refuses to take a sectarian 'side'. The family is faced with a heart-rending decision to stay in Belfast or leave for England, putting behind sectarian strife and debts but also close relatives.

For all its limitations, Belfast strikes a chord. As the lights went up at the cinema showing I attended in east London, there were tearful people from Ireland, north and south, of all ages.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • We must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation £


Your message: 


In The Socialist 2 February 2022:


Tories attack UC recipients with 'get any job' threat

NHS mandatory vaccination to be ditched

NI rise piled onto shoulders of the lowest paid

Gas and electric bills set to soar by 50% this year

Covering basic costs is hard, and it's getting worse

International news

Ukraine: Workers' unity needed

Northern Ireland: Bloody Sunday 50 years on

School students strike in Austria

Coup d'état in Burkina Faso

France: Education workers and students walkout


Tories Out!

Dave Nellist standing for Birmingham Erdington

Why a socialist candidate for Birmingham Erdington is vital

Hackney Unison to encourage anti-cuts candidates

Essex cuts racket must end

Portsmouth: Council workers leaving and tenants' double whammy

TUSC by-elections round-up

Workers fighting back

The winter strike wave escalates as workers fight back and win

NHS workers begin strike for 15% and against outsourcing

Victory at NewVIc college! 'The picket line gives us power'

Coventry bins: all-out against strike-breaking Labour council

Scunny scaffs strike restarts with a bang, barricades and a win!

PCS 2022 elections

Workplace news in brief

Campaigns news

Tories sinking, workers rising - help fund the socialist fightback

May Day Greetings: Back the paper that backs the working class

Why I joined: I'm tired of austerity and status quo

Socialist Students getting organised for 2 March walkout


Belfast: Worth watching portrayal of previously airbrushed workers' unity


Home   |   The Socialist 2 February 2022   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleDon't Look Up: An entertaining satire on corporate power and the US establishment

triangleFilm review: The Harder They Fall

triangleTV Review - Help: Heart-wrenching portrayal of Covid care home crisis

triangleFilm Review: Martin Eden

triangleFilm review: Nomadland


triangleFor workers' unity against war in Ukraine

triangleWorkers and students unite and fight

triangleCanada: Prime Minister Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act to end 'Freedom Convoy'

triangleThe Erdington byelection and the fight for a new mass workers' party


triangleTV review: This is Going to Hurt

triangleTV review: Vaccine Wars: The Truth About Pfizer

triangleTV review: Valley of the Tears


triangleThousands of Tesco warehouse workers to strike

triangleBritish state absolves itself from killings during 'the Troubles'


triangleMet police boss ousted



TV review: This is Going to Hurt



TV: 'Death of Two Black Men: Police in the Spotlight'



TV: 'A Killing in Tiger Bay'



How Cardiff Bay's redevelopment led to 'social cleansing'


Trans rights

Does the fight for Trans rights conflict with women's rights?


Socialist Party

Why I joined: I'm tired of austerity and status quo



Belfast: Worth watching portrayal of previously airbrushed workers' unity



Covering basic costs is hard, and it's getting worse



Theatre: Yes Yes UCS



Anne: Hillsborough and the fight for justice



Money Heist: A Robin Hood tale set in modern-day capitalism



Don't Look Up: An entertaining satire on corporate power and the US establishment


Tony Blair

War criminal Tony Blair knighted



Bullying weighing room culture at the races



Free prescriptions? Maybe when you're older

triangleMore articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 077 7221 5281

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793



Alphabetical listing

August 2022

July 2022

June 2022

May 2022

April 2022

March 2022

February 2022

January 2022