Written for RAF News Sept 2015
Adapted from Colm Tóibín’s novel, this period drama set in 1952 follows Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) a young Irish wallflower in search of a life with better prospects across the pond, finding not only a job but first love.
Leaving behind her sister and mother in their rural hometown that couldn’t promise her a future, Eilis heads for Brooklyn, the Irish home away from home, but not even a job and night classes can quell her homesickness.
A traditional Irish score carries Eilis’ thoughts of home, and so too does an event for which she volunteers, offering food to the older generation of Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, the forgotten souls who built the tunnels and bridges. In one particularly striking moment, a man stands and sings in Gallic, a powerful and piercing performance that resonates with all, nonemoreso than Eilis.
Although there is romantic nostalgia anchored in Ireland, it is painted in earthy tones, in brown and beige, where New York’s excitement is met with a smattering of vibrant colours. It is only when Eilis finds the attention of humble Italian-American Tony (Emory Cohen), that she is pulled in by the allure of the city – finding comfort in her new home and confidence that her life is coming together.
That is until she is called back home following tragic news, discovering that her situation has changed and that there might be a future back in Ireland after all: a job and a charming young suitor played by Domnhall Gleeson.
The camera seems to be in love with Saoirse’s portrait, her detached gaze caught in constant close-up throughout the film, offering a poignant insight into the struggle of finding herself and where she belongs. Eilis is straight-faced for the most part, shining with innocence even after being dolled up by the ‘awful gossip mongers’ of her boardhouse.
The supporting cast provide colour and comedy, none moreso than Julie Walters who steals the show as the maam of Eilis’ boarding house, with a few gloriously written lines, delivered effortlessly.
Brooklyn is a charming love story that doesn’t sensationalise. A simple and effective story that feels honest and is all the more powerful for it.