Director: John Crowley
Writer: Nick Hornby
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent
The year is 1952. With no job and few prospects in Enniscorthy, Ireland, Eilis (pronounced ‘Ay-lish’) Lacey decides to make a new life for herself in America.
Her sister Rose reaches out to the kindly Father Flood, a priest in New York who arranges for Eilis a job as a shop assistant and accommodation at a boarding hostel. Although Eilis is excited at her prospects, she is saddened to leave behind her sister and mother in Ireland. Rubbing it in, the local shopkeeper who Eilish worked for – a busybody named Miss Kelly – sneers that Rose will spend the rest of her days doing nothing but caring for her mother because of Eilis.
The journey across the Atlantic is a torrid one. Dodgy soup dishes and sea sickness make for a messy and unpleasant combination. Eilis is helped out by a kind stranger, an Irish American who is returning to America after a brief visit back to Ireland. She gives Eilis some sage advice on fitting in when she arrives on American shores.
Brooklyn is based on a novel by author Colm Toibin and the screenplay was adapted by Nick Hornby, himself an accomplished author. It is a deliberately low key and subtle film, filled with lots of pleasing small details and minutae, both in the performance of Saoirse Ronan and in the little idiosyncrasies observed by director John Crowley about immigrant life in America in the 1960s.
I like the laconic pacing of the film, with each snippet of Eilis’ new life – working, finding her independence, meeting boys – unfolding like a chapter from the novel, with every new development bookended with dinner at the boarding hostel. The dinner table conversations, which are hosted by the impeccably mannered Mrs Keogh, typically involve six young women throwing shade at one another and trying to assert a pecking order. They are some of the film’s funniest moments.
Eilis regularly writes home to her sister Rose about her new life. Eilis longs for Ireland and has terrible bouts of homesickness at first. It’s not until she finds her self confidence and direction (she begins to attend a night school to become a bookkeeper) that her feelings about Brooklyn begin to change. At an Irish dance hall, she meets Tony, a second generation Italian, and the two begin a courtship. One thing leads to another and we think we know where the story is headed.
But then a tragedy befalls Eilis and she is called home to Ireland. At first she does not intend to stay for long but her family and friends call to her. She is loved, needed and has a place in Enniscorthy. There’s even a new guy on the scene, Jim Farrell, who takes an interest in her. Suddenly, Eilis finds herself conflicted as to where she belongs.
Brooklyn is a film about finding home. It asks of Eilis whether home is that place where you grew up, where your family lives and where the roots of your heritage lies. Or is it somewhere new, a place filled with opportunity, with new cultures, new people to meet and a chance to start a family of your own. I think everyone who watches Brooklyn will understand the direction that the story is headed but it is sweetly told and beautifully crafted all the same. The film is heavily centered on Saoirse Ronan’s performance which is nuanced, understated and thoroughly enjoyable. Eilis is a softly spoken character and often times she is called upon to show flashes of determination, vulnerability or hearthache without the use of dialogue. It is Ronan’s panache and sincerity in these key moments that make the film what it is.