Why the film ‘Belfast’ Helped Me Heal from Childhood Pain and the Shame of Denial

Sometimes you need to go back to the past to make sense of the future

Justine McGrath
3 min readMar 1, 2022


The Crown Bar in Belfast. Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

About twenty minutes into the film ‘Belfast’ I started crying and I didn’t stop till the end. My husband looked on concerned and bemused. He is used to me crying during movies, but this was strange even for me.

I couldn’t understand where the tears were coming from. But once they started to flow I was powerless to stop them.

I have now reflected on what it was that caused such emotion in me and I have come to several conclusions.

Firstly as a child, I had to endure far too many painful goodbyes. My father was a surgeon in Zambia and that was home. Both of my parents are from Belfast and to ensure I received a good education, I was sent to boarding school in Belfast at the age of 9.

I was extremely close to my dad. I absolutely adored him and saying goodbye whenever I had to return to boarding school broke my heart. Every Christmas, Easter, and Summer I had the joy of returning to Zambia for the school holidays. But the inevitable goodbye always came far too soon.

In ‘Belfast’ leaving is a pivotal theme throughout the film and I believe it was this that turned on the faucet of my tears.

Secondly, I began to understand the trauma that the people of Belfast lived through during the Troubles and it broke my heart all over again. I was at boarding school in the 1980s. I remember the Hunger Strikes, too many bombs to mention, too many deaths to mention, and how we all just got on with our lives — because what other choice did we have?

Finally and most poignantly of all, I realized that I had spent a portion of my life ‘denying’ I was from Belfast. I would always say I was from Zambia because I didn't want to admit I came from a place that was committing such atrocities. Watching the film I realized that I deeply loved Northern Ireland. The people are resilient and full of humour. The country has endured unbelievable trauma and yet it has survived and thrived and is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

The tears were tears of shame. How could I have denied this country where the people I love most in the world come from. The city of Belfast gave me an education, it provided me with wonderful friendships, incredible experiences and it taught me the greatest lessons of my life.

Films have the power to move us and reflect life back to us. I will always be grateful to Sir Kenneth Branagh for writing about how Belfast impacted his life. In sharing his story I am sure he has helped many to reflect and hopefully heal from the past.



Justine McGrath

I believe in kindness because it matters. Author ‘Conversations with my Father — Jack Kyle,’ and ‘The Elephant Crossing.’ http://proactivecoaching.ie