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United Kingdom 2015
Directed by
John Crowley
112 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4.5 stars


Synopsis: Eilis (Saiorse Ronan) lives in Enniscorthy, a small town in Ireland in the early 1950s. Encouraged by her sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), and Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), Eilis emigrates to New York with hopes of making a better life. After her initial homesickness, she meets her true love, Tony (Emory Cohen). But when tragedy strikes back in Ireland, Eilis returns to briefly visit her mother Mary (Jane Brennan).  When she meets Jim Farrel (Domnhall Gleeson) Eilis finds herself torn between two men and two countries.

Let’s straighten out some pronunciations first. Eilis is pronounced “Ay-lish” and Saiorse is “Seer-she”. These glorious Celtic names that roll off the tongue so smoothly are emblematic of the way in which this beautifully crafted film insinuates itself into your heart with story-telling that is both old-fashioned and timeless (the script is by Nick Hornby from a novel by Colm Tóibín).

Brooklyn is a film about journeys, metaphorically and literally. Eilis’s journey to America is by boat, and the scenes of her gruelling voyage are suffused with both tenderness and humour, as Eilis tentatively makes a new friend who cares for her when she falls ill, and coaches her in how to get on in the new land. Travelling from her childhood home to New York is like going from one universe to another – life in Ireland it is archetypally provincial – everyone knows everyone’s business and the shop keeper for whom Eilis worked is a mean-spirited gossip-monger. In Brooklyn, however, Eilis can easily vanish into anonymity. The emotional journey she makes is even greater as she goes from a sheltered colleen to a confident young woman in both life and love.

Every character in this film feels unique and perfectly in place. In Brooklyn Eilis lives at a young women’s boarding house run by Mrs Keogh, brilliantly portrayed by Julie Walters, who chides and coaches her charges, local girls and immigrants alike, over the dinner table. Much good humour is elicited from these scenes. Jim Broadbent as Father Flood is thoughtfully avuncular while each of the girls with whom Eilis works is a stand-out character, even the small roles. Eilis’s mother and sister are played with heart-wrenching tenderness, but never does the director allow things to become maudlin. The two men who capture Eilis’s heart seem diametrically opposed – Tony, a second generation Dodgers-loving Italian-American is a rough and ready plumber with a loving heart and devotion to family, whilst Jim, from an elite private rugby club is dapper, well-educated and more reserved. But it is Ronan who stands out most with her memorable and translucent Eilis. There is a brilliant simplicity to her ability to display compassion to strangers and love to her nearest and dearest.

The department store where Eilis has her first job is a beautiful example of the film’s fine production values – a glorious and nostalgic recreation of the 1950s (not far removed in time from the currently-screening Carol). Every aspect of the film’s settings, both in Enniscorthy and bustling Brooklyn, is meticulously crafted, with a sense of time and place fastidiously recreated.  

Brooklyn fuses a compellingly emotional tale of being caught between worlds, one to which many will relate, with its socio-historical context. Enhanced by a stunning score from Michael Brook, blending traditional Irish melodies with lush romantic themes, it will sweep you up in its story.




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