#BranaghInBelfast: an inspiring example

21 February 2018 - by Quintin Oliver

As our gridlocked politics ran into stasis again this month, an unusual and inspiring day of celebrations showed off Belfast at its best.

The #BranaghInBelfast day – which took place on 30 January – came about as Sir Kenneth was awarded the Freedom of the City of Belfast on a cross-community motion in the city council.

Recently the City Hall has tried to arrange a bespoke event for recipients. Branagh asked for, and was rewarded with, an amazing array of pop-up activities across Belfast, based on free screenings of his movies in unusual venues and linked to the theme of the movie.Thus, Dunkirk played on HMS Caroline, Dead Again at the Carnegie Oldpark Library, Rabbit-Proof Fence in Culturlann and Cinderella within the august surroundings of Belfast Castle, enlivened by an audience of princesses.

Meanwhile, the man himself crisscrossed the city with energetic Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister, introducing the films with pin-point accuracy of timing to schools, audiences and adults alike. The ever-efficient Film Hub NI organised other partners, equipment and support.

The piece de resistance came at night, when the Ulster Hall buzzed to readings, play extracts, clips, testimonials from actors and charities with whom he works in Northern Ireland, and a powerful closing rendition of ‘Once more unto the breach…’ backed on stage by the full Ulster Orchestra. Direction by David Grant of QUB was iron-disciplined, yet playful and compassionate.

Nor was the conflict that drove Branagh away from his native city, aged nine, in any way ducked. There was a reading from his own early play, Public Enemy. Michael Longley delivered a heart-rending performance of his own masterpiece, Ceasefire, and Branagh took on the Jimmy Ellis role in his early BBC Billy Plays with young Belfast actors centre stage.

It was a day when Belfast said how proud it was of all Branagh’s achievements. He reiterated his pride at hailing from this place. “Belfast,” he said, “has always given me more that I could give Belfast.”

With much negativity attaching to our civic discourse at present, the heralding of genuine success stories becomes even more crucial in fostering the cooperation we are undoubtedly going to need to move back towards the ideals of 1998.