Brooklyn: Saoirse Ronan’s winning lead
by Naman Ramachandran
- Irish director John Crowley delivers a lush yet sensitive adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s immigration novel
Ever since she made the world sit up and take notice with Atonement [+see also:
film profile], directed by Joe Wright, Saoirse Ronan has been accumulating a formidable variety of performances with standouts being Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, Wright’s Hanna [+see also:
film profile], Neil Jordan’s Byzantium [+see also:
film profile] and Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now [+see also:
film profile]. In a way, Brooklyn based on Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel and adapted by Nick Hornby (An Education [+see also:
film profile]) is a reversal of Ronan’s own life. The actress was born in New York and her Irish parents moved back to Ireland when she was a child. In Brooklyn, a gala screening at the 59th BFI London Film Festival (7-18 October), Ronan plays Eilis, who has little career prospects in the small Irish town of Enniscorthy, in 1952. Thanks to her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), Eilis gets a job at a department store in Brooklyn, New York. Initially homesick, Eilis flowers after meeting Italian American plumber Tony (Emory Cohen). When tragedy strikes, Eilis returns to Ireland, where life seems much less bleaker than what it used to be and prospects, in both career and romance, are bountiful. She must now choose between Enniscorthy and Brooklyn.
Director John Crowley (Intermission) delivers a lush yet sensitive adaptation of Tóibín’s novel and Hornby’s screenplay adds deft touches to the source material. Their evocation of Ireland and the US, with the grim sea voyage in-between, borders on the poetic. They capture the pain of immigration, the wretchedness of homesickness and the dilemma of romantic choice beautifully. Their juxtaposition of small town mores against big city values is fascinating and their New York is almost as chaste as small-town Ireland.
As the central pillar of the film Ronan excels, it is nothing short of a command performance from her. Her gradual blooming from a prim and timid naïf to a confident and glamorous New Yorker is wrought subtly. Amongst the supporting cast, it is Cohen as Tony who is the standout. Effortlessly charming, the actor seems destined for a long leading man career. Julie Walters, always a delight to watch, is a hoot as Eilis’ caustic landlady and Jim Broadbent is excellent as always as Eilis’ kindly priest mentor in Brooklyn. The film then is an extremely satisfying rendition of what remains an extremely satisfying novel.
The film is a BBC Films, the Irish Film Board, British Film Institute, Telefilm Canada and SODEC (Canada) presentation of a Wildgaze Films (UK), Finola Dwyer Productions (UK), Parallel Films (Ireland) and Item 7 (Canada) co-production, in association with Ingenious, BAI and RTE. Hanway Films are handling international sales, and Lionsgate will release in the UK on 6 November.