Belfast Telegraph

Sir Kenneth Branagh surprises movie fans on board HMS Caroline in Belfast

Sir Kenneth Branagh paid a surprise visit to the HMS Caroline in Belfast on Tuesday - surprising a group of movie-goers who were on board to watch his turn in the Oscar nominated Dunkirk.

The actor is in the city to be awarded the Freedom of Belfast at a special ceremony at the Ulster Hall.

Ahead of the event, the Belfast-born star visited the historic vessel which was screening the movie as part of the pop-up Branagh in Belfast film festival.

Mr Branagh enjoyed a short tour of the HMS Caroline, before giving a very special welcome to those on board for the movie screening.

Jamie  Wilson, General Manager for HMS Caroline, The National Museum of the Royal Navy spoke of the team’s delight to welcome Mr Branagh to the WW1 vessel.

He said: “It has been a pleasure welcoming Mr Branagh to see this piece of living history, and of course, give our visitors today a fantastic surprise ahead of their special Dunkirk screening.”

The celebration event at the Ulster Hall will highlight Branagh’s long and productive artistic and charitable connection to the city, where he was born and lived until the age of nine.

Writing in the programme for the ceremony, Branagh said: “My Belfast childhood was characterised by Freedom. Here was a city, a big city to my child’s eyes that always felt like a village.

“It seemed like you couldn’t get lost. Everyone knew you or someone who knew you. In the landscape, the Cavehill seemed to wrap itself around you protectively from one side, and the shipyard raised the strong arms of its cranes from the other.

“You could see and feel the limits of where you lived, and you knew exactly who you were – Belfast, working class, proud.”

He continued: “To come back home, and receive the Freedom that so symbolises my experience of the city, is a humbling honour.

“I want to sincerely thank the Lord Mayor, the councillors who nominated me and all the city officers and supporters elsewhere who have made this generous occasion happen.”

One of Belfast’s most famous sons, Branagh will be joined on stage by some of the city's finest emerging and established actors and writers.

Oscar-nominated composer Patrick Doyle, who has written scores for a number of Branagh films, will play alongside the Ulster Orchestra, and works by Graham Reid, Owen McCafferty, Sinead Morrissey, Emma Must and fellow Freeman of the City Michael Longley will also feature.

Among the readers is Julia Dearden who played the actor's girlfriend in the ‘Billy’ plays which first brought him to prominence, and actor Ian McElhinney– well known for his role in Game of Thrones and currently filming Krypton in Belfast -  will also be performing.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Nuala McAllister said: “It’s really exciting to welcome Ken to the city and to celebrate all he has achieved in what has been a remarkable career to date.

“Apart from his film and stage work for which he is so well known, Ken also has a very personal and enduring connection to his home city, reflected in the charity work he is involved in here - which will also be recognised during the very special event in the Ulster Hall.

“I trust it will be a very enjoyable and memorable day for Ken.”

Belfast City Council has been working with Film Hub NI to organise the Branagh in Belfast film festival, with free screenings being held in venues across the city.

Into Film and Cinemagic are coordinating a series of screenings in several Belfast schools so children and young people will have the opportunity to enjoy some of Branagh’s work.

The Lord Mayor added: “Ken’s roots in north Belfast have given him a love for the city of his birth and an understanding of its potential so that from the earliest moments of his career, promoting the arts in Belfast has been high on his agenda.

“I am particularly delighted, in my year championing a theme of Global Belfast, to celebrate a man who is a true global ambassador for this city.”

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