Friday, November 26, 2021

Quote of the Day (Kenneth Branagh, on Moving Out of Ulster During ‘The Troubles’)

“That rupture was the most significant event in my personal life. There was a sense that before that mob came up the street [i.e., a riot he witnessed as a child in Belfast in August 1969], I knew who I was and that I was at peace. From that point onward, a whole series of identities and masks was constructed. What I wanted to do [in his new film Belfast] was peel some of those away. To do some self-remembering without indulgence, simply trying to open what had been covered up. Because there’s so much of who I am that was formed in that period up to 8 years old and before that riot occurred. But from that moment there was a guardedness, there was an inability to roll with things in the way that one had done before.”—Actor-director Sir Kenneth Branagh quoted in David Marchese, “Talk: Kenneth Branagh Is Finally Processing His Childhood Trauma,” The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 7, 2021

Nearly 30 years ago, while still married to Kenneth Branagh, actress Emma Thompson told an interviewer that, because of the sectarian unrest he had witnessed during his Ulster boyhood, the sight of a church left her husband almost physically ill as an adult.

Now, in Belfast, Branagh immerses moviegoers in a semi-autobiographical recreation of that traumatic childhood. 

I have been following the actor’s career off and on since he first attracted wide notice here in the U.S. with his Oscar-nominated performance in Henry V. But, as an Irish-American, I am especially interested in how he treats this particularly intense chapter in the tangled British-Irish relationship in his critically acclaimed new movie.

A move away from all the friends, places and other certainties one has known to date can be difficult for any child. The decision by Branagh’s parents to relocate to England as a result of the wrenching violence that erupted in Northern Ireland in 1969 must have been far worse.

Fans of film and theater should be glad that he and his family survived. It should never be forgotten that far too many others died—physically, emotionally or spiritually—during the three-decade period that ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

One can only hope that the Protestants and Roman Catholics of Ulster’s six counties will be able to work out on their own a future of justice, peace, opportunity and equal rights for all, without the specter of the gun ever darkening their lives or the history of that region again.

(The accompanying photo of Kenneth Branagh was taken on July 10, 2009, at the Roma Fiction Fest that year, by Giorgia Meschini. For a fine short piece from six years ago, hailing Branagh’s “diversity of work” while centering on his abundant productions of The Bard, I urge you to check out this this post from “The Shakespeare Blog” by Sylvia Morris.)

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