Belfast and its stars celebrated at Oscar Wilde Awards

By Judith Cummings

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Image source, Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Image caption,
Jamie Dornan was honoured at the Oscar Wilde Awards in Los Angeles on Thursday night

Celebrated films from or about the island of Ireland, north and south, are nothing new in Hollywood.

From Brooklyn, to The Commitments, Hunger to The Crying Game.

This year's success story is, of course, Belfast, Sir Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical account of his early childhood in north Belfast.

With its seven Oscar nominations, the film and two of its stars were honoured at the Oscar Wilde Awards, hosted by the US-Ireland Alliance.

Director and writer Branagh couldn't be there in person because of a positive Covid test last week, but actor Jamie Dornan was there reflecting on the success of Belfast.

"I'm trying to enjoy the moment, but it's been a long moment, from Telluride in September when it was just Ken and I out there, now it's been months," Dornan told BBC News NI.

"I think I'll look back on it and it will have even more resonance of how special it's been to be a part of this movie.

"The fact it's resonated so much around the world is absolutely class. But it really mattered to us that people at home got it, were proud of it and could stand by it."

Image caption,
Director JJ Abrams talking to BBC News NI reporter Catherine Morrison on the Green Carpet at the Oscar Wilde Awards

While it may lose out on Sunday night, Irish actor Sarah Bolger said Belfast "should win everything".

"It had me in bits. It was such a magical piece, Jamie Dornan's fantastic. Catriona Balfe's amazing. It should wipe the floor with everything," she said.

Also rooting for the film was screenwriter and director Richard Curtis, praising the scriptwriting of Branagh.

"If you tell a bit of truth, that truth will catch fire in lots of different places," he said.

"And it shows so much about how a family must interact with the politics around them and how much tension that can put on a family."

Image caption,
King Richard director Reinaldo Marcus Green, director Richard Curtis and writer and commentator Emma Freud at the Oscar Wilde Awards

The awards are held by the US-Ireland Alliance to help promote film production on the island of Ireland, and its founder and president Trina Vargo, said they were delighted Belfast was having "such a great year".

"I'm glad to see it's getting the attention it deserves," she said.

"There's been a lot of films made in Ireland and Northern Ireland and TV shows. You had Game of Thrones and then Star Wars in the south.

"I just think people are seeing it as a great place to make films, so it's only going to get bigger and better."

Image source, Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Image caption,
Irish actor Sarah Bolger thought Belfast should win every award at the Oscars

Master of ceremonies was JJ Abrams, director of Star Wars, Star Trek and an upcoming series about U2 which he said was still in its early stages.

"My wife and I love Ireland. This organisation made me an honorary Irish man and I'm very proud of that, but getting to go back to Ireland, getting to understand that country, work there and get a sense of the people, working in Northern Ireland, it's really been an incredible thing."

And on Belfast, the Hollywood heavyweight thought it was "beautiful".

"I loved how personal it was. I thought Jude Hill was unbelievable, I thought everyone in the film was amazing - an incredible cast."

Another Oscar-nominated film being recognised at the awards was Don't Look Up and its writer and director is Adam McKay.

While the connection to Ireland might not be obvious at first, it was written in the province of Ulster.

Image caption,
Film director Adam McKay chats to BBC News NI on the green carpet at the Oscar Wilde Awards

"I wrote the script in County Cavan right by a beautiful lake, it's the county of lakes and it was one of the most beautiful places, I've ever written about," he told BBC News NI.

"It was just so quiet and and serene and I'm working on a new script, a couple of other projects and I'm going to go back."

And a trip to Northern Ireland is also on the cards as his father's family hails from County Tyrone.

"The second to last time I was in Ireland I visited some cousins, sat down and had dinner with them so I'm due a visit to the McKays up there in Northern Ireland."

As the awards season wraps up in Los Angeles, all eyes have turned to Sunday's Academy Awards.

But for the cast of Belfast, the big win seems to have been its reception in Northern Ireland.

"We were terrified before we showed it on 4 November back at home and it felt like there was a real, palpable sense of appreciation that night," Dornan said on the green carpet.

"It was about the most relieved I've ever been in my life that it had been accepted by people at home."