In Kenneth Branaugh’s new movie Belfast, Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe star as Pa and Ma, the hard-working and hard-worrying parents of two kids struggling to find their way in a divided Northern Ireland. Together, the family navigates riots, prejudice, and schoolboy crushes, all while trying to determine their next steps.
For Balfe and Dornan, it was something they were all too familiar with, having both grown up in the wake of Northern Ireland’s troubles. Dornan was himself raised in Belfast, and Balfe just south of the border in Ireland proper. We sat down with the pair to talk about what they remember learning about the struggles growing up, and what they loved about working with Jude Hill, the charismatic and adorable actor who plays Buddy, the family’s youngest child.
The A.V. Club: Jamie, you’re from Belfast. How did you earn about “the troubles” as a kid and when did you really become aware of what was going on?
Jamie Dornan: I was sort of born right into the middle of it. I was born in 1982, so it had been going on for 13 years at that point.
It’s interesting you say that, because depending on your schooling, it’s either a big part of your curriculum or it’s not. Therein lies all the complications in that part of the world of some people thinking that they’re British and the others thinking they’re Irish. On the Irish side of the country, the curriculum in Catholic schools will be about the origins of conflict and in more Protestant led British schools, you will be taught about Henry VIII or something. It’s not part of the curriculum.
It’s absurd. I am a big champion of integrated schooling, which, still less than five percent of the schools in Northern Ireland are integrated, which is shocking in 2021 after 23 years of peace.
I’ve done my own research and have written stuff around it recently. Other times in my career, I’ve had to do research on the period of time, too, so I feel I’m up to date. But it wasn’t given to me as a child.
AVC: Caitriona, you’re from Ireland as well, but not Northern Ireland, so perhaps it’s a whole different story. When and how did you learn about “the troubles”?
Caitriona Balfe: Oh God. Well, I grew up six miles south of the border and I went to a very small primary school that was run by a man who, by all accounts, was very, very nationalistic. So I think when you went to a school like that, you get one side of what’s happening, and a very staunch side at that.
But because I grew up so close to the border, the way it was in the ‘80s, the [British] pound was stronger than the [Irish pound], so as a kid, we would always go to the north to go shopping or to go to the dentist. So I grew up going through these army checkpoints at least once a week, which as a kid you don’t think anything about.
I think the first time that I really realized it was something really unique or different, our cousins were up from outside of Dublin and we were going through the checkpoints and my aunt was in the car in front, but my cousin was in our car. The British soldier was just asking a question with a gun on his side and my my cousin just lost her mind and started screaming, “Please don’t kill my mom, please don’t go do this.” And so you realize then that this is not something commonplace, but as a kid, you sort of take what you’re given just as normal.
AVC: Speaking of being a kid, I thought that Jude Hell as Buddy was just a star. What did you love about working with him?
JD: Everything about him is just such a treat. He was brilliant. He’s a brilliant actor above everything else.
You know, it’s tough at that age. I’m sure Caitriona also has experience also working with kids. It’s not always easy, particularly when there’s been so much demanded of them. He’s almost in every frame of the movie, and he just brought a really strong sense of fun. He also had a great work ethic and took direction wonderfully well.
We felt like a proper family when we were doing it. And you know, he’s cheeky and I encouraged that also,. It’s important.
CB: He’s just such a great kid.
Belfast hits theaters this Friday, November 12. You can read our review of the movie right here.