“The family is a soul center and apex of spiritual energy. It is a place where we learn what everything means and how to make everything meaningful.”
— Psychologist Paul Pearsall

In this lyrical, richly human, and illuminating autobiographical film, writer and director Kenneth Branaugh focuses on the wonders, mysteries, and paradoxical experiences of Buddy (Jude Hill), a smart, sensitive, creative, and soulful nine year old. He and his older brother (Lewis McAske) are lovingly nurtured by his feisty mother (Caitriona Balfe), his hard-working father (Jamie Dorman) who has a job in England as a skilled laborer, his wise grandfather (Ciaran Hinds), and his witty grandmother (Judi Dench).

Jude Hill as Buddy and Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench as his grandparents.

“Soulmaking feeds on individual experience. If we hope to deepen our understanding of the soul and her neglected powers, we need to open ourselves to whatever hints and clues experience puts in our way. As soulmakers we make ourselves over from our experiences, like artists who play with and rearrange the raw materials of their craft. Experiences that nudge us out of the rut of everyday consciousness are roads to recapturing the soul.”
— Philosopher Michael Grosso

The film takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, near the start of the Troubles in August 1969. In the opening scenes, we witness Buddy’s delight and adventure as he takes in the vibrancy and pace of his neighborhood, a diverse community of Protestants and Catholics. The kids play in the streets watched over by parents and neighbors. Then, suddenly, all that changes when gunfire and Molotov cocktails turn the streets into a nightmare of chaos and bloodshed as the Catholic homes are targeted by rampaging Protestants. Buddy realizes that he must now learn to live with both the good days of play and the terrible ones of sectarian violence.

Buddy’s coming-of-age experiences are rendered with such authenticity that we find ourselves caught up in them: remembering the simple pleasures of playing soccer, trying to make sense of the tension in his home due to his parents’ debts, the thrill of watching movies that give him goosebumps, the mystery of religion as the preacher defines the road to heaven and the road to hell, and the joy of music and dance as an expression of community.

At a dance: Caitriona Balfe as Ma and Jamie Dorman as Pa

Buddy discovers the exhilaration of first love as he tries to get seated in school next to a pretty girl. And there’s the always sage wisdom of his grandfather. Told to make his math answers a little ambiguous, Buddy protests, “But there’s only one right answer.” His grandfather replies, “If that were true, people wouldn’t be blowing each other up.” But as the Troubles accelerate, the family has to make a tough decision about the only home they know.

Belfast, shot in nostalgia-appropriate black-and-white, is a soulful coming-of-age triumph brimming with meaning. The performances are all outstanding, and the music by Belfast native Van Morrison is perfectly suited to the mood of the story. Thanks to the creativity of writer-director Kenneth Branaugh, Belfast is one of the most Spiritually Literate Films of 2021. Be sure to cap off your experience of the movie by staying through the closing credits for Van Morrison’s “The Healing Has Begun” (lyrics here, audio here).

A seed needs just the right amount of time and the right conditions to ripen into a plant, tree, or flower. It is the same with human beings. Only with us, we are properly nourished and nurtured by the people and the places in our lives that bring out the best in us.
— Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, S&P Co-Founders