Kenneth Branagh triumphs in Toronto with Belfast

A black-and-white family mural in the bustling Northern Ireland of 1969, the British filmmaker’s new film is already a favorite in the Oscar race.

Does Kenneth Branagh finally hold his film to Oscar? After the ovation reserved this week by the Toronto International Film Festival for his feature film Belfast, it is now allowed to believe. The British North Irish director’s love letter to his hometown, the black-and-white romantic comedy won the prestigious and coveted Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday. A good indicator in the race for the Oscars, the award had in recent years been given to Nomadland (2020), Green Book (2018) or again 12 Years a Slave (2013), all holders of the supreme American statuette.

“Our first screening of the film Belfast at the Toronto Film Festival was one of the most memorable experiences of my entire career ”, said Kenneth Branagh in a video shown during the Toronto Film Festival ceremony. “I am delighted, I am touched and I am deeply grateful”, added the 60-year-old British actor-director who took advantage of the first confinement in England to write the screenplay for the film. Eclectic filmmaker, his work ranges from Shakespeare adaptations to the first film Thor , by the way, more recently by new versions adaptations of the investigations of Hercule Poirot.

Diving at the start of the Troubles

His latest film Belfast, which hits theaters in North America in November, is inspired by her personal story. It tells the story of the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s through the eyes of Buddy, a nine-year-old boy. It was at this age that Kenneth Branagh and his family moved to England to escape the “Troubles” which then tore Northern Ireland and Belfast apart until the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Both funny and moving, the feature film is carried by an abundant cast which combines Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Caitriona Balfe and Ciaran Hinds.

“A story like this tries to show that even in the midst of chaos and violence, this city has incredible qualities”, presented the director to AFP. Belfast people “Overcame an incredible number of challenges” and it is not over, he added, in reference to the violence that has plagued Northern Ireland in recent months. Scenes of confrontation have raised the specter of the conflict between Protestants and Northern Irish Catholics, killing some 3,500 people. “The fear of bombs every weekend when trying to meet your friends in town … things like that which had become so normal to us seem crazy in retrospect”, also mentioned the actor Jamie Dornan who also grew up in Belfast. “There will always be unrest in Northern Ireland unfortunately”, added the actor known to have played one of the main roles in erotic films Fifty Shades of grey.

Oscars Marathon

A figure in British cinema and a regular at the Oscars for forty years, Kenneth Branagh has never won a single statuette. A singular testament to the jack-of-all-trades character of his career, the filmmaker’s five past appointments each time concerned a different category. Named in the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Director in 1990 for his Henry V, Kenneth Branagh was subsequently nominated for the Oscar for best short fiction film (The song of the Swan, at the 1993 ceremony), for the best adapted screenplay (Hamlet, in 1997) as well as Best Actor in a Supporting Role (My Week with Marilyn, in 2012).

After relocating online last year due to the pandemic, the Toronto International Film Festival this year saw the return of Hollywood stars, but with reduced hosting capacities, fewer stars on the shelves. red carpets and a smaller selection of films. Belfast stood out from other finalists, such as Canadian drama Scarborough and The Power of the Dog, a movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch and directed by Jane Campion. During the closing ceremony on Saturday evening, the Festival also presented awards of excellence for the careers of actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Jessica Chastain, as well as for Denis Villeneuve.

Other films presented in Toronto and considered “Oscar winners” were not eligible for Saturday’s prize, including Spencer with Kristen Stewart and the sci-fi movie Dune by Denis Villeneuve. The award for best documentary went to The Rescue, a film about the rescue of a Thai boys football team from a flooded cave in 2018, by the Oscar-winning directors of Free Solo E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. The output of Belfast in France is expected on December 15. The next Oscars ceremony will take place on March 27, 2022.


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