Set in 1969, the autobiographical film emphasizes Branagh's most formative "fork in the road" when his Protestant family grapples with deciding whether to stay in an increasingly dangerous and violent Northern Ireland—the only home they have ever known—or escape to Britain. Told from the perspective of Buddy, a composite of Branagh's childhood perspective, the film is like reexperiencing innocence lost. Pure time-travel, the story plots his early life in childhood fragments and memories and each squeezes the heart. It evoked my own parents and grandparents, young and vibrant again—also my childhood traditions, friends, and first crushes; it illustrated well that childhood confusion we all experience when the people we want to trust most make decisions, or are forced to make decisions, that will reverberate in our lives in expected and unexpected ways, forever. It is a universal story, told and retold. I was rapt.
Likewise, I was glued to breaking news reports in Eastern Europe; I imagined those children in Ukraine, their slow-motion escape toward the border with Poland, compelled by fear, confusion, anger, disillusionment, many leaving their fathers behind. There is no reason for it.
History has revealed that Northern Ireland's "troubles" are no longer so troubling. But what will history say about Ukraine and Russia, and the selfish ideology that enabled a conflict currently trending as WW3? No matter what the books written about this someday say, I have to ask again, when will we ever learn from history? Why must we repeat it? And what will our children remember?