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Staff & contributors

Belfast stars Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as the mother of a working-class Northern Irish family during The Troubles. Religious tension and the lack of opportunities put the family in a difficult position: they're the first in many generations to think about leaving the city of Belfast. They all have to navigate so many difficult questions on belonging, religion, and identity.

The story,  based on the director’s own childhood, is packaged in a noise-canceling black and white format. Also stars Judi Dench.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Bríd Brennan, Caitriona Balfe, Chris McCurry, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Conor MacNeill, Drew Dillon, Elly Condron, Gerard Horan, Gerard McCarthy, James O'Donnell, Jamie Dornan, John Sessions, Josie Walker, Jude Hill, Judi Dench, Kit Rakusen, Lara McDonnell, Leonard Buckley, Mairéad Tyers, Mark Hadfield, Michael Maloney, Olive Tennant, Oliver Savell, Orla McDonagh, Sid Sagar, Turlough Convery, Vanessa Ifediora, Victor Alli

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Far from feeling like English literature homework, this version of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of errors fizzes with vitality and wit. Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in his own sumptuous adaptation, which also features a banquet of dashing talent in their prime, including Emma Thompson and a winning Denzel Washington.

Even amongst the film’s superlative ensemble (which also features a melodramatically villainous Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton as a farcically inept policeman), Thompson stands out for her instinctive grasp of Shakespeare’s genius and easy ability to lift it off the page and give it sparkling life. As Beatrice, she deals out wry cut-downs of Branagh’s vain Benedick, all while trying to suppress the roiling romantic tension that nevertheless persists between them. It might not be set to the music of ABBA, but with Patrick Doyle’s radiant score, an intoxicatingly beautiful Tuscan setting, and an infectious, non-stop party vibe, the joyous Much Ado About Nothing feels more akin to Mamma Mia than any of cinema’s other Shakespeare adaptations.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex Lowe, Andy Hockley, Ben Elton, Brian Blessed, Chris Barnes, Conrad Nelson, Denzel Washington, Edward Jewesbury, Emma Thompson, Gerard Horan, Imelda Staunton, Jimmy Yuill, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton, Patrick Doyle, Phyllida Law, Richard Briers, Richard Clifford, Robert Sean Leonard

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh’s third Hercule Poirot movie does everything it can to divorce itself from the quaintness of a typical Agatha Christie adaptation. Loosely based on the novel Hallowe’en Party, this outing swaps exotic locales for the claustrophobic confines of a gothic Venetian palazzo and flirts outright with horror. The film, shot through more Dutch angles than an Amsterdam maths class has ever seen, uses the genre's visual language to credibly suggest that this mystery might actually have paranormal undertones. Forcing Poirot to reconsider his die-hard loyalty to rational explanations is an interesting twist — it punctures the idea of him as a mystery-solving god and gives the film bigger questions to chew on than whodunnit.

What that does, however, is sap the satisfaction of watching him expertly crack the puzzle, because the movie spends so much time centering Poirot’s crisis of confidence. A Haunting in Venice’s tone switch to serious horror is also at odds with the campily bad accents and mostly overwrought acting from the (much less starry than usual) cast. It’s not the same kind of reliable guilty pleasure we expect these vehicles to be, then, but this outing of Branagh’s Poirot is at least an interesting experiment in expanding these stories' usual limits.

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ali Khan, Amir El-Masry, Camille Cottin, David Menkin, Emma Laird, Jamie Dornan, Jude Hill, Kelly Reilly, Kenneth Branagh, Kyle Allen, Lorenzo Acquaviva, Michelle Yeoh, Riccardo Scamarcio, Tina Fey

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Rating: PG-13