Kenneth Branagh comes home with Belfast film premiere

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The film follows the life of a Belfast family in the late 1960s as the Troubles broke out.

Movie stars, including Jamie Dornan, Caitríona Balfe and Ciarán Hinds, have joined Sir Kenneth Branagh on the red carpet to open this year's Belfast Film Festival at the Waterfront Hall.

Branagh returned to his hometown to showcase his latest film Belfast.

It follows the life of a Belfast family in the late 1960s as the Troubles broke out and will be released in UK cinemas on 21 January.

Also at the premiere was break-out star of the movie 10-year-old Jude Hill.

The film explores his character's childhood, amid the social and political tumult of the time.

Written and directed by Branagh, the film also stars Dame Judi Dench.

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Speaking to BBC News NI at the premiere in Belfast, Branagh said it was a story he had wanted to write for a long time.

"At one stage I thought there was maybe a story about my grandparents when they were young," he said.

"But in the end it became clear that it [the story] was about this turning point, this moment of change here.

"There were a lot of big questions for anyone living in Belfast and we had our own little version of it in our family."

Fans have arrived all the way from Germany to try to catch a glimpse of the stars and there was an array of cameras and reporters.

I was lucky enough to see the film last night. I have to admit, I sometimes struggle with films about Northern Ireland but I thought Belfast was really wonderful.

Image source, Rob Youngson/Focus Features
Image caption,
Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Ciarán Hinds in the film Belfast

Set in August 1969, the Troubles are there but in the main it's an affectionate portrait of a childhood where, actually, the city is a wonderful place to young Buddy, at the centre of the film.

Yet there is gathering darkness as the Troubles start to impact.

Obviously it's semi-autobiographical - the family live at 96 Mountcollyer Street in Tigers Bay - so there are a lot of local references.

The big question is does the family stay or do they go?

Branagh's parents left Belfast and moved to England when the Troubles started and he said the film was about trying to understand why they made that decision.

"What I felt very strongly about that time was I felt very secure - I really knew who I was and I felt in this city that you couldn't get lost," he said.

"We were related to one half of Belfast and we went to school with the other half.

"That that was instantly lost in a moment of traumatic change which happened to everyone, was something I really wanted to understand my parents' process with."

Image source, Brian Lawless/PA wire
Image caption,
Jamie Dornan greets Patrick Kielty with Ciaran Hinds looking on

Northern Ireland actor Jamie Dornan said the fact the film showed the beginning of the Troubles from a different viewpoint is important for audiences outside of Northern Ireland.

"I hope they have a better understanding that a lot of regular people were caught up in this and they didn't want it," he said.

"I've spent my adult life travelling the world telling people with great pride that I'm from Belfast.

"I've always been met with this sort of gasp - people can't believe you are from that place and you got out of there alive.

"No matter what we say about it, no matter how we package it, that is the world view of this place.

"If we can show a different side of it, then I think that's really important."

Belfast has received plaudits from the global film industry and was awarded Toronto International Film Festival's People Choice Award following its screening in September.

Director of Belfast Film Festival, Michele Devlin said she "could not be prouder" to have welcomed Branagh to open the 21st Belfast Film Festival.

"His lovingly-crafted homage to his hometown and its citizens perfectly encapsulates the theme of this year's festival 'bringing it all back home'," she added.

Belfast Film Festival returns to celebrate its 21st year with a programme full of local films and stars, running from 4 to 13 November.

Also being shown at the festival will be Alison Millar's newest documentary on the life and death of journalist Lyra McKee which was made in partnership with Lyra's family, friends and partner.