A scene from Belfast.

Writer-director Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is one of the year’s best films, an honest and humorous semi-autobiographical take on his upbringing in the late ’60s Irish region responsible for building the Titanic.

The film starts pleasantly enough, with Buddy (Jude Hill), a young boy based on Branagh, playing in the street near his small home. The peace is broken by protestors fired up about religion—and Buddy gets a quick lesson in religious/political upheaval. His parents (well-played by Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan) struggle with financial problems and the eventual reality that leaving their beloved Belfast might be the best way to keep the family together.

This is one of Branagh’s better directorial efforts. He has a tendency toward the grandiose, but Belfast has a sweet intimacy to it. That doesn’t mean the movie looks like an indie, low-budget endeavor. Shot in black and white—with some nice color touches for a few scenes—Belfast is a well-polished, solid-looking film.

Hill is very good as the film’s central soul; he has solid comic timing and a realistic sense of what a child’s temper looks and sounds like. Dornan will have you forgiving him for his Fifty Shades days, with Balfe quite powerful as the steadfast Ma. Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench provide old pro charm as Pop and Granny.

Branagh has crafted a nice little triumph with Belfast.

Belfast is now playing at Mary Pickford Is D’Place (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City) and the Regal Rancho Mirage and IMAX (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage).