Belfast star Judi Dench has paid tribute to her Irish roots as the Oscar-tipped film opens in cinemas.

Writer-director Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical love letter to his hometown reunites him with longtime friend and collaborator Dench to tell the story of Buddy, a nine-year-old Belfast boy who faces the prospect of saying goodbye to the city as the Troubles begin.

The acclaimed film stars newcomer Jude Hill as Buddy alongside Caitríona Balfe as Ma, Jamie Dornan as Pa, Ciarán Hinds as Pop and Dench as Granny.

When RTÉ Entertainment spoke to Branagh and Dench this week, talk turned early on to their roots.

Kenneth Branagh on the set of Belfast Photos: Rob Youngson/Focus Features

Branagh's family left Belfast for Reading, Berkshire when he was nine-years-old in May 1970.

Dench's mother Eleanora was born in Dublin and her English-born father Reginald moved to Dublin at the age of three. Her parents met while her father was studying medicine at Trinity College Dublin.

Writer/director Kenneth Branagh, actor Lewis McAskie, actor Jude Hill, actor Judi Dench, actor Jamie Dornan, and actor Caitríona Balfe on the set of Belfast

"I've always thought that Judi has a great deal more Irish in her than the public are aware of," said Branagh. "This film has probably outed me fully a hundred percent as a man from the North! [Laughs]

"But actually, [turning to Dench] I think your Irishness and your character - your love of words and all of that - I think, is very much part of you."

Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Ciarán Hinds on the set of Belfast

"It is," Dench agreed.

"I've never lived in Ireland because my family came over to Lancashire and then to Yorkshire. My brother was born in Lancashire and I was born in Yorkshire.

"But I always remember - in fact, I never forget - my parents saying to me, this is after the war, they said to me, 'We're going to see a film, it's called Night Boat to Dublin'. And so, I got ready to go to the film.

"We weren't at all - we were going on the night boat to Dublin!

"And I will never forget that morning of all standing on the deck, watching us coming into Dún Laoghaire and my parents... the emotion was tremendous. I mean, it must have been extraordinary for them to come back and see a place that they were brought up in."

Much of Belfast's emotional power comes from the way it makes the viewer think about their own family and memories, with both Branagh and Dench saying that the experience of making the film during lockdown had a profound effect on everyone involved.

When asked for their fondest memories of their time on set, Branagh replied: "It was the family of the film. It was morning one: being in the room after a long time of us not working or knowing whether we would work, with this one [points to Dench] and with Ciarán Hinds, Jamie Dornan, Caitríona Balfe and young Jude Hill.

"It was that moment of having the creative family come together. It was amazing."

"And I think because of the fact that we hadn't been able to do that, we were amazingly well looked after - like, we were all tested and everything," continued Dench.

"Somehow, the thing about us all having to be so careful made us a family kind of straight away. It was glorious working and being all together."

Belfast is in cinemas now.

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