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Kenneth Branagh Offers Bill Maher Some ‘Real Time’ Understanding – Deadline

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Bill Maher was back Friday night from a brief hiatus, but he was also happy to enjoy his first maskless studio audience in two years. “It’s great to see you, and I can finally see you,” Maher said at the top of his HBO show, Real Time. “I don’t want to see another mask unless it’s on a surgeon or a Michael Jackson impersonator.”

To celebrate, Maher had a special one-on-one conversation with actor/writer/director Kenneth Branagh, whose coming of age story Belfast is nominated for seven Academy Awards in this years’ ceremony.

Maher had Branagh outline the film’s background for the audience, a story which is based on Branagh’s own experiences growing up in Northern Ireland. One morning, Branagh said, he was playing with his Catholic neighbor. That afternoon, he was warned not to do that, as the religious tensions known as “The Troubles” divided the country into Protestants and Catholics, culminating in a vast number of Catholics being forced out of the country.

Branagh likened those dark days to the US civil rights movement, calling those times in Northern Ireland a “dark, dark period of history.” He said, “We loved our Cathoic neighbors,” and remarked about how they all lived together in similar styles and worked the same kinds of jobs. But “in one fell swoop,” that all changed.

While some, like Branagh’s parents, tried to live what he termed “an independent existence,” where “I’m not with either tribe,” neutrality wasn’t an easily accepted option.

That’s why Branagh said he chose to tell the Belfast story through a nine-year-old’s eyes. “It’s because there’s a simplicity to it,” he said. At that age, “You can be pure and very open.”

Why, Maher asked, did Branagh choose to make Belfast now? One reason is that his parents had a hard time speaking about what happened. “We never, ever spoke about it,” he said.

What came out of those times is an uneasy truce today between the neighbors’ two religions, Branagh said, a peace that has to be won every day. As the demographics change again and the possiblity arises that Catholics could dominate in Northern Ireland, Maher asked if things could erupt again.

Branagh said that the shaky peace after 30 years of conflict at least points out what can be possible, and how universal it is to desire peace. He said one of the things that appeals to the audience for Belfast is a universal themes of family and the need for understanding. “I’ve seen a guy from Congo” with tears streaming. “That’s my story.” A girl from Iran also told him, “That’s my story.”

Those reactions point to a common humanity, “all the stuff that releases you from the terrible pressure of holding these fixed positions, where you refuse to understand what people are trying to say,” Branagh said.

Following Branagh, a panel discussion with Frank Bruni, professor of public policy at Duke University and author of The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found, and Batya Ungar-Sargon, deputy opinion editor of Newsweek and author of Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy, talked about the need for an off-ramp in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and how the media’s focus on woke issues is undermining society.



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