Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast: Upcoming film ‘should come with subtitles’, leading Hollywood publication claims

Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming film Belfast should come with subtitles as some of the actors’ accents are “difficult to understand”, a leading Hollywood publication has claimed.

hile praising the ‘well drawn and beautifully played’ characters in Branagh’s most personal movie to date, particularly newcomer Jude Hill’s portrayal of the young protagonist, the Hollywood Reporter said the ‘thick Irish brogue’ was hard to follow in parts.

A second review in Variety magazine also zoomed in on the Belfast dialect, saying Branagh’s relocation to England with his family at the age of nine, had ‘spared him the accent’.

The comments have been criticised by a Co Antrim screen-writer who has penned the first ever Ulster-Scots crime drama.

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Director Kenneth Branagh (left) and actor Jude Hill

Ballymoney man Ewan Glass, whose television series Sang Toon was developed with BBC Northern Ireland, said to tell the story of Branagh’s Belfast in anything but a working-class accent would have been to do it a ‘great disservice’.

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(L to R) Caitriona Balfe as “Ma”, Jamie Dornan as “Pa”, Judi Dench as “Granny”, Jude Hill as Buddy, and Lewis McAskie as Will in director Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, a Focus Features release Picture: Rob Youngson / Focus Features

And he said Hollywood film-makers needed to expand their engagement with more international communities if they found some accents too difficult to understand.

The film, starring 10-year-old Hill, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciaran Hinds and Jude Dench, premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. The festival was attended by Dornan and Branagh, who wrote and directed it during lockdown.

One review described it as ‘a touching and moving portrait of childhood and family’ and said it was a contender for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

But the Hollywood Reporter, while recognising its ‘moments of humor and pathos that leave a lasting impact’, highlighted the accent.

“Most of the story is told through Buddy’s eyes, and young Hill is a marvellous camera subject,” the review said.

“Unfortunately, he also speaks in a thick Irish brogue that is not always easy for American ears to comprehend. Some of the other actors are equally difficult to understand.

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Jude Hill (left) stars as Buddy and Jamie Dornan (right) stars as “Pa” in director Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, a Focus Features release Picture: Rob Youngson / Focus Features

“This is a movie that definitely would benefit from subtitles.”

Scriptwriter Glass, who has worked in the film and television industry for 10 years, said he had watched the trailer and thought the accents authentic and appropriate.

He also praised Branagh for making the movie and bringing the story of Belfast to the big screen.

“It’s taken someone who has moved away and now has an English accent to get this mainstream movie about Belfast made and I commend him for that,” he said.

“Perhaps it is a class thing. Being exposed to working class accents is something that not enough films and TV shows do.

“I watched the trailer and found it quite emotional. It’s brilliant that Branagh is revisiting his roots and to adulterate such a personal story by using more middle class or posh accents, would have been to do it a great disservice.

“Hollywood is not au fait with working class accents, but it should be. It’s exposed to lots of different accents and I dare say would understand a posh Irish accent easily enough.

“Belfast doesn’t have to come with sub-titles. Five minutes in, you get a feel for an accent, no matter where it is from. It’s about being willing to get on board and engage.”

It’s not the first time the Northern Irish accent has proved tricky for viewers from across the pond to understand. When Derry Girls was picked up by Netflix, some viewers, unacquainted with the dialect, were left struggling to follow what was going on.

In response to complaints to its original home, Channel 4, the station unveiled a hilarious video, poking fun at the critics in a light-hearted manner.

The video featured many of the station’s stars, including four of the cast of Derry Girls. Saoirse-Monica Jackson, who plays Erin in the show, says: “Those girls need subtitles.” Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, who plays Michelle, gets up and kicks the subtitle away.

The Channel 4 video was based on real complaints from disgruntled viewers.