A heartfelt coming of age tale in 1950s Ireland and America, Brooklyn is a story of promise and choices.
Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) plays Eilis, a shy, respectful, even taciturn young woman on the verge of full-blown adulthood who sets sail from small town Ireland to Brooklyn, New York. You see, opportunities are scarce in rural Ireland, particularly for youngsters like Eilis. All she has to look forward to are slick-haired and slack-jawed rugby players, woeful weather and selling groceries at a mean-spirited matron’s store. That’s when her older sister intervenes. Sis seeks the help of a former local priest, now based in Brooklyn, who arranges for Ronan to emigrate to New York to pursue a better life for herself.
Eilis understands she has no choice other than to leave behind her mother, sister and home for the first time. But it will hardly be an easy transition, at least in the first instance. Checking in to a boarding house run by an Irish landlady and working at an upmarket department store, she finds it difficult to bring a smile to her face as homesickness becomes a terrible burden. All that changes though when she meets a doting and respectful Italian American plumber, Tony (Emory Cohen), who courts her. Suddenly she is experiencing hitherto unimaginable joy, until an incident back home sees her traveling back to Ireland. Absorbing herself into her old community, Eilis is conflicted and pained by wanting to be in two places at once.
After an extremely slow start (to the point of laboriousness), Brooklyn becomes a charming crowd-pleaser. Adapted by Nick Hornby (An Education) from Colm Tóibín’s New York Times’ bestseller, Brooklyn is directed by John Crowley (Intermission).
Hornby’s job was to walk that tightrope of Tóibín’s understated prose, the creation such a beautiful balancing act, a tale of two cities and two lives if you like. As Hornby puts it: “If a young woman can identify with any of the characters in Pride and Prejudice, they’d be able to identify with Brooklyn.”
Eilis undoubtedly grows during the course of the movie, drawing strength and confidence as her journey unfolds, turning from a caterpillar into a butterfly. In short, she finds her own voice during a time when a lot of choices were restricted and respectability was all important.
The filmmakers set out to achieve an equilibrium between an engaging character study and social commentary on Irish-American history. In many ways, Brooklyn is the ultimate love story.
Ronan is pitch perfect as the hidden jewel who blossoms, but she is not the only character that is well drawn, which is – in fact – a feature of the picture. Respective personalities are quickly well established, whether that be Eilis’s God-fearing landlord Mrs Kehoe (played by Julie Walters), the kindly priest Fr Flood (Jim Broadbent) or Tony, Eilis’s American beau. Much gentle humour is drawn from the relationship between Mrs Kehoe and her interactions with the Irish girls she has dinner with nightly at her boarding house.
The only thing that really grated for me concerned a twist in the final act that, the way it played out, wasn’t in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film. Now don’t get me wrong, I understood the need for a circuit breaker, but when it came, the so-called “tidying up” appeared to happen in a millisecond – a sharp contrast to the pacing in the rest of the movie. Still, as I alluded to earlier, after a turgid opening I am pleased to be able to say that for most part Brooklyn is a delight and scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: John Crowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Zegen, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters
Release Date: 11 February 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television