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Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe binge-watched Pop Goes NI in preparation for Oscar-tipped Belfast

Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe revealed they binge-watched the BBC Two series Pop Goes Northern Ireland to help prepare for their roles in the critically acclaimed Belfast movie.

The programme, which launched five years ago, reflects on key periods in the history of Northern Ireland with episodes dating from 1969 to 1999, accompanied by chart hits of the time.

Dornan and Balfe, who play Pa and Ma in Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical Belfast, said they also looked at YouTube interviews and news reports from the late 1960s to help get a better feel for the era.

“There’s so much footage from that time of real people,” Balfe told The Los Angeles Times during the London Film Festival.

“You hear them talking and arguing. It was really emotional going back and watching all that stuff. To see the inception of something that lasted for so long and is still not resolved, there’s a sadness to it.”

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The cinematic tribute to Branagh’s native city is set in his home place of north Belfast in 1969/1970, and reflects the personal story of one little boy’s childhood during the tumultuous early years of the Troubles, which went on to last for three decades.

The film has already created an Oscars buzz, and Belfast-born Dornan noted that he and Balfe, who is originally from Dublin, were able to draw on their own experiences from those years for their characters.

“This focuses on the beginning of a particular conflict that lasted for 30 years, a conflict that had a huge influence on both of our lives,” he said.

“We were both born into it. That is something that has shaped us, growing up in a conflict environment and a post-conflict environment, which it still very much is today. It’s a world that we recognize in a big way compared to other worlds we’ve tried to inhabit with our work.”

Balfe previously told USA Today that although the story of Belfast is very much unique to Branagh’s childhood experiences, she “recognised Ma immediately”.

“There's so much of my mother in her, and so much of the Irish women I know,” she said. “They're quick to anger, quick to love and quick to have fun."

Belfast actor Ciarán Hinds and Oscar-winning superstar Judi Dench join the duo as Pa’s parents, often bringing comic relief and the warm familiarity of stereotypical Northern Irish grandparents to the screen.

“On the first day of rehearsal, Ken brought Jamie, Judi and me into a room,” Balfe recalled.

“He just asked us lots of questions about our childhoods, about our parents, about how we would react to different situations or how our parents would react to different situations.

“Instantly, then, we all knew something very intimate about each other. That breaks down a lot of barriers and creates an instant bond. He’s very clever, Ken. Just in a subtle way he’s needling out the things he wants you to start thinking about or bringing into your performance, without it feeling like he’s giving you a directive.”

Since its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival nearly three months ago, Belfast has been gaining momentum and picking up awards, including the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

The last nine People’s Choice winners went on to earn Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Gilford schoolboy Jude Hill (11), who plays the lead, Buddy, is already being touted as a lead actor contender at the Academy Awards.

The work also racked up 11 nominations at the British Independent Film Awards (Bifa), with Balfe nominated for best actress, Judi Dench and Hinds for supporting actress and actor, and Hill for breakthrough performance.

Special film screenings of Belfast took place earlier this month at the Belfast Film Festival, online and in cinemas and venues across the city including Odeon Cinema, Queen’s Film Theatre, The Strand Cinema and Common Market.

It will go on general release in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on January 21, 2022.

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