Sir Kenneth Branagh has attributed the circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic as allowing him to write a film inspired by his childhood in Belfast.

Arriving at the premiere of Belfast in his home city, Sir Kenneth admitted he had not expected to write the story but said it “needed to come out” and he had had the room to do it.

The cast includes Dame Judy Dench as “Granny” as well as Jamie Dornan as “Pa”, Caitriona Balfe as “Ma” and Ciaran Hinds as “Pop”, as well as 10-year-old Jude Hill as “Buddy”.

It has been billed as a poignant story of love, laughter and loss in one boy’s childhood, amid the social and political tumult of the late 1960s.

(l to r) Lewis McAskie, Caitriona Balfe, Kenneth Branagh and Jamie Dornan with Jude Hill
(l to r) Lewis McAskie, Caitriona Balfe, Sir Kenneth Branagh and Jamie Dornan with Jude Hill (Brian Lawless/PA)

Branagh’s family moved from north Belfast to England when he was just nine as the Troubles broke out.

“As it got written and my family approved it, then this opportunity to actually make it was precious and we didn’t know at any point whether we’d be shut down,” Sir Kenneth told PA.

“Every day every member of the crew had to test, we had sweaty moments every morning as we checked those tests and then I edited it just outside London with my editor, who was in Dublin. All of it is kind of a miracle.

“But when I see Jude Hill’s face in this very fancy marquee for the opening, (it’s) surreal but beautiful”.

He described the story as a “human drama in which people dealt with the Troubles”, rather than the violence being the focus.

Dornan was greeted with screams from waiting fans as he arrived at the premiere at the opening of the Belfast Film Festival co-hosted by Northern Ireland Screen at the Waterfront Hall.

Sir Kenneth Branagh
Sir Kenneth Branagh’s family left Belfast when he was nine (Brian Lawless/PA)

He admitted to being a lifelong fan of Sir Kenneth and had had a framed picture of the actor growing up. He described the experience of working with him as “nuts”.

“If you’re from here (Northern Ireland), you know that Ken is from here but outside of here, people don’t really know that, everyone thinks he is this Shakespearian, very English actor, director, writer, producer, massive mogul within the industry,” he said.

“But here we are so proud that he is from here.

“I grew up with a picture of Kenneth Branagh and my dad on our bookshelf in our living room because he had opened a wing of the maternity ward my dad had worked in at the Royal (Victoria Hospital).

“He was always a figure of pride in our house. Amazing to get the chance to work with him.”

Referring to being greeted by screams, Dornan laughed: “No, you don’t get used to that, no”.

Jamie Dornan greets Patrick Kielty with Ciaran Hinds looking on
Jamie Dornan greets Patrick Kielty with Ciaran Hinds looking on (Brian Lawless/PA)

Balfe described her character as reminding her of many women she knew.

“There is a ferocity to Irish women that is quite familiar to me and Ma felt that way, I spent a lot of time watching interviews of women from that time period … I wanted to do justice to the women of Belfast, who are these amazing strong women who have been through a lot – I wanted to tell their story,” she said.

Hill described the filming as “really fun”, adding he is loving all the attention the film is receiving.

“Ken really deserves this because he put blood, sweat and tears into making this film,” he said, adding he felt he was quite like his character Buddy – apart from the football teams they support.

“I just love acting and I would really like to do more of this … (my dream role) would probably be to be in one of the Avengers films, I honestly don’t care who, I just really want to be in one.”

Belfast will be released in UK and Irish cinemas on January 21 2022.