WATCH: City’s oldest picture house the perfect spot to watch Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast film

When Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast opens tomorrow (Thursday) in the city where it is set, one cinema can lay claim to being a venue befitting of hosting the movie.

The Strand Cinema on the Holywood Road in east Belfast first opened in 1935 and is the only ‘picture house’ still standing from the time when Belfast is set – the 1960s.

Strand Arts Centre CEO Mimi Turtle said: “This is the only original picture house left in Belfast.

“The film itself includes a couple of visits to the pictures. Kenneth Branagh grew up in north Belfast so it’s probably the Troxy which has been demolished along with a lot of our picture houses.

Undated film still handout from Belfast. Pictured: Jamie Dornan as Pa, Ciaran Hinds as Pop, Jude Hill as Buddy and Judi Dench as Granny. PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Focus Features, LLC/Rob Youngson. All Rights Reserved. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Reviews.

“The Strand has a lot of similarities to the Troxy, the same architect. It feels quite nostalgic watching it in a picture house whenever you’re looking at another cinema from the same era.”

Although the film’s UK release date is given as Friday (January 21), special screenings will take place in Belfast tomorrow evening before opening across Northern Ireland on Friday.

Mimi said the film had generated a lot of interest prior to its release: “We’ve seen a lot more interest than we normally would.

“People are really interested and intrigued, I think people hold Kenneth Branagh in such a sense of pride. He has given back an enormous amount to our creative industry in Northern Ireland, championing what he considers his home town.

Strand Arts Centre CEO Mimi Turtle looks ahead to the UK cinema release of Sir Kenneth Branagh's Belfast film

“The audience are interested, particularly those middle-aged and senior, who will remember the era.”

Jude Hill plays nine-year-old Buddy, a role based on Branagh himself, in the film which also stars Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds, Caitriona Balfe and Judi Dench as members of Buddy’s family.

It is set at the beginning of the Troubles, but violence, although occasional, is not to the fore in the film.

Mimi said: “I think the Troubles is more of a backdrop. It’s incidental to the characters.

“There’s definitely a sense that it’s written for a global audience more than a Northern Ireland audience.

“It’s got that nostalgia, that wholesomeness which the American love about all things Northern Irish or Irish.”

She added: “This is just one person’s story, one person’s memory and obviously stories and narratives change with memory.

“It’s that kind of sepia, rose-tinted view that comes whenever you have memories.

“Because it is set here I know Kenneth Branagh and Jamie Dornan have said in interviews that they are more nervous that people here will enjoy it and accept it.”

Of the staggered release which has seen the film open in America and other parts of the world before the UK, Mimi said: “It is unusual because of pirating for a film not to have one international release date.

“People here will already have seen the film, but not on the big screen as it was meant to be showcased.”

——— ———

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers — and consequently the revenue we receive — we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Ben Lowry