By Christine Westwood

Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn is a gem of a novel. Set in the fifties, it follows young Eilis Lacey, who moves from small town Ireland to Brooklyn, New York, where she faces the challenges of losing one life and adapting to a new one. The movie adaptation – from screenwriter, Nick Hornby, and director, John Crowley (Boy A, Closed Circuit) – certainly hit a heartfelt note at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. “It’s apt that the film is meeting its first audience in the States, where there are so many connections, ancestors, and families of people who have made the journey,” Crowley said in his introduction at the film’s screening. The richly talented Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones) plays Eilis from shy, homesick country girl to confident young woman in what is an emotional and physical rite of passage. Speaking in her own native Irish accent, she gives Eilis a vivid, authentic presence, and is the true heart and soul of Brooklyn.

At the after screening Q&A, the twenty-year-old Ronan – who eventually picked up a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her performance – talked to the audience about going through her own challenges in leaving home, and the emotional nature of the character’s journey. “We were worried at one time that I was crying too much,” she laughs. “But at the same time, pretty much everyone in this audience has gone through that first stage in their life when they leave home for the first time and they leave their childhood behind, and that familiarity that you’ll never really quite have again maybe until you have your own kids. It’s exciting and wonderful and devastating. I’ve been going through this in the last couple of years, and you do mourn that lovely past. I cried a lot too, so I think it was very appropriate for me to be sobbing through the whole thing. But it was real, very real.” When asked how she could access the emotions scene after scene, Ronan says, “I think of Eilis. I think of her story and I think of her.”

John Crowley and Saoirse Ronan on the set of Brooklyn
John Crowley and Saoirse Ronan on the set of Brooklyn

Richly satisfying, Brooklyn – which also received Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nominations – boasts flawless directing, great cinematography, and lovely performances, especially from the legendary Julie Walters, who is hilarious as the acid tongued landlady running the boarding house where Eilis stays when she arrives in New York. Eilis’ past and future, meanwhile, are symbolised by two young men, with Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, Unbroken) as her Irish suitor, and Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond The Pines) offering a compellingly sweet performance as a New York boy from an Italian immigrant family. On the red carpet at The Sundance Film Festival, Crowley described the challenge of creating the two distinct worlds of the film, and meshing them into a whole story. “The key is that there’s a linear development of Eilis as a character,” the director offers. “That’s the connecting thread. The style of filmmaking develops subtly. At the start, it’s almost artless: her world is quite contained, so we used hand held cameras, and there are very few broad shots. Then as the film and her story develop, it starts to get a bit more elegant, smoother, and almost classical. There are more broad shots, as her world is expanding, and she’s flowering into this rather wonderful young woman. But it is a story of duality, because what Colm Toibin and then Nick Hornby captured so well was a split that occurs in somebody when they emigrate. You no longer feel that you belong to the place that you’ve come from, but nor do you belong to your chosen land either. You’re a member of the third race, which means that you’re an exile.”

Brooklyn is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.


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