Northern Ireland

Sir Kenneth Branagh granted freedom of Belfast

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Media captionSir Kenneth Branagh, Belfast and the BBC

The actor and director Sir Kenneth Branagh has received the freedom of Belfast.

He was made a freeman of the city at a special ceremony at the Ulster Hall on Tuesday evening.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption The star was honoured by Belfast City Council at the Ulster Hall

A series of screenings of his films is taking place at venues across Belfast to mark the occasion.

Sir Kenneth was born in the city in 1960, but moved to England with his family at the age of nine.

His first starring role was as Billy Martin in the Billy trilogy, written by Graham Reid and broadcast by BBC Northern Ireland in the 1980s.

Murder on the Orient Express, Dunkirk, My Week with Marilyn and Henry V are among his subsequent films being shown in Belfast on Tuesday to mark his award.

City councillors voted unanimously in October 2017 to grant Sir Kenneth the freedom of the city.

"I'm proud to say that you can take the boy out of Belfast, but you can't take Belfast out of the boy," he said at the time of the announcement.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Sir Kenneth made a speech as he accepted the honour

Oscar-nominated composer Patrick Doyle, who has written scores for a number of Sir Kenneth's films, will play alongside the Ulster Orchestra on Tuesday night, and works by Graham Reid, Owen McCafferty, Sinead Morrissey, Emma Must and fellow Freeman of the City Michael Longley will also feature.

Among the readers was Julia Dearden who played Sir Kenneth's girlfriend in the 'Billy' plays, and actor Ian McElhinney- well known for his role in Game of Thrones and currently filming Krypton in Belfast - also performed at the ceremony.

Belfast City Council, working with Film Hub NI, organised a pop-up 'Branagh in Belfast' film festival.

It included free screenings of Cinderella at Belfast Castle and Dunkirk on board the HMS Caroline.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sir Kenneth Branagh was born in Belfast in 1960

Into Film and Cinemagic also co-ordinated a series of screenings in several Belfast schools to give children and young people the opportunity to enjoy some of the star's work.

'Humbling honour'

Writing in the programme for the Ulster Hall ceremony, Sir Kenneth said: "My Belfast childhood was characterised by freedom.

"Here was a city, a big city to my child's eyes, that always felt like a village.

"It seemed like you couldn't get lost. Everyone knew you or someone who knew you.

"You could see and feel the limits of where you lived, and you knew exactly who you were - Belfast, working class, proud."

Image caption Sir Kenneth Branagh said he was proud of his Belfast roots

He continued: "To come back home, and receive the freedom that so symbolises my experience of the city, is a humbling honour."

Sir Kenneth became the 82nd person to receive the honour, which pays tribute to individuals or organisations who have made a contribution to civic life.

'Personal and enduring connection'

Previous recipients of the award include the poet Michael Longley, musician Sir Van Morrison and athlete Dame Mary Peters.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Nuala McAllister said: "It's really exciting to welcome Ken to the city and to celebrate all he has achieved in what has been a remarkable career to date.

"Ken also has a very personal and enduring connection to his home city, reflected in the charity work he is involved in here - which will also be recognised during the very special event in the Ulster Hall," she added.

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