‘Belfast’: Kenneth Branagh Snuck a ‘Thor’ and Marvel Reference into his Latest Feature Film

If you are going to see a movie in Winter, you are most likely watching a superhero film or an Oscar contender. Writer and director Kenneth Branagh has made both. His latest effort is called Belfast.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, is loosely based on the filmmaker’s own childhood growing up in Ireland in the late ‘60s. In it, the director decided to reference his connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Kenneth Branagh attends the "Belfast" Premiere during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 12, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario.
: Kenneth Branagh | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

From Thor to Shakespeare to ‘Belfast’, Kenneth Branagh is an accomplished director

Kenneth Branagh made a name for himself writing, directing, and starring in several Shakespeare film adaptions. These include Henry V (1989), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Othello (1995), Hamlet (1996), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000), and As You Like It (2006).

Among his numerous acting credits are roles in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Wild Wild West, Tenet, and My Week With Marilyn. Recently he has directed and starred in Murder on the Orient Express and its upcoming sequel Death on the Nile. 

For Disney, Branagh has exclusively stepped behind the camera in Cinderella, Artemis Fowl, and Thor

In ‘Belfast’, Kenneth Branagh teases his ‘Thor’ and Marvel past

His latest film has strong ties to his past Marvel project. Belfast centers on a young boy living with his family in the Irish city before the Troubles started in the late ‘60s. The semi-autobiographical piece is said to capture the violence that defined the era with heartwarming childhood moments.

One such moment depicts the nine-year-old main character sitting on the curb reading a Thor comic. Variety reported that audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival were “delighted” by the reference, meeting the visual with applause. 

‘Thor’ is not the only pop culture reference the TIFF film makes

While this is definitely a nod to his turn directing the first film, it could also serve as a callback to his own childhood. Branagh told the LA Times in 2010 that he read the comics as a kid. 

“Growing up, my single comic book passion was Thor,” he said. “From my time in Belfast as a kid, that’s the first time I came across that comic, really, exclusively, I don’t know why, but it struck a chord. I was drawn to it. I liked all the dynastic drama.” 

Belfast has garnered plenty of praise since its premiere at the TIFF on Sept. 12. The entire film is in black and white and stars Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, and Judi Dench. Newcomer Jude Hill plays the surrogate version of Branagh, Buddy.

Branagh channeled his childhood on set. His production team painstakingly recreated the Belfast street he grew up on. “Within about five minutes on any given day, that’s where I’ve absolutely felt I was, back in 1969 and back in a certain part of Belfast,” he said.

The director packed other pop culture references into the film. Jane Fonda and Barbarella, the original Godzilla, the first Star Trek series, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and One Million Years B.C. all show up.

“The cinema, for me, was one place where the screen engulfed you so totally that you could, for those moments, forget,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “You could feel safe, away from the mayhem.”

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