Ireland | UK | Canada 2015
Opening January 21, 2016
Directed by: John Crowley
Writing credits: Nick Hornby, Colm Tóibín
Principle actors: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Julie Walters, Domhnall Gleeson, Jane Brennan, Jim Broadbent
Here is a movie which will strike a chord with many of our club’s members. Brooklyn tells the story of a young girl who leaves home and travels to a foreign country in the hopes of finding a new life for herself, just as many of us have done.
Eilis Lacey (Ronan), barely out of her teens, is the heroine and shining star of the film, which is set in the early nineteen fifties. She lives with her sister Rose and their widowed mother in a stiflingly small town in County Wexford in Southern Ireland. Eilis has a part time job in the village shop, a shop ruled over by a spiteful tyrant – a job leading nowhere. When Eilis tells her employer that she’s about to set sail for America she is rewarded with instant dismissal. Rose has a full-time and permanent job as a bookkeeper for a local firm but she understands that life offers no prospects for her little sister. She has arranged via the local priest and his American counterpart for Eilis to have a job and a place to live in Brooklyn. So Eilis, like so many of her countrymen before her, sets out for a new life in the new world.
Director John Crowley’s scene, where Eilis stands on the deck of the boat, watching and watched by her Mam and Rose is a very powerful one. All of us who have been in a similar situation (although more likely in an airport lounge rather than on an ocean liner) will remember how we felt. Here there are no tears or histrionics but all three women silently exude a brave stoicism and a sense of inevitability. It is a memorable moment in the movie. Another equally powerful scene is the one where Eilis leaves the immigration centre, opens the door and seems to enter paradise. This scene is humorous and nicely balances the pathos of the earlier one. Later, when Eilis is helping at the Christmas party, sadness returns when she meets the Irishmen whom life has treated badly.
Father Flood (Broadbent) is the kindly priest in Brooklyn (almost all the Americans are kind in this movie) who has arranged for Eilis to live in a boarding house run by Mrs. Kehoe (Walters). She mothers her young ladies while ensuring that they keep up their Catholic way of life. The gauche and homesick Eilis starts work in a smart department store and dutifully attends the weekly dances in the local church hall. Slowly she starts to adjust to her new life. Father Flood arranges for her to take a bookkeeping course at Brooklyn College and she meets Italian Tony (Cohen) at one of the awful church dances. Life is beginning to look rosy but then tragedy strikes and Eilis goes home.
The suspense in the movie and the strength of the story is shown by Eilis’ reaction to life back home again in County Wexford. She has to consider and compare it with the new one she has made for herself in Brooklyn. Eilis questions where home is and what the word home really means. When her friendship with Jim (Gleeson) begins to grow Eilis’ resolve weakens and she must make a life-changing decision.
Eilis’s story remind us of the heartache and hardships which early immigrants suffered in the days before affordable and reliable air travel and trans-Atlantic phone calls. When she set sail for Brooklyn the sisters and their mother must have known that it was a very real possibility that they might never see each other again. Saoirse Rowan’s quiet and delicately nuanced performance as Eilis is perfection. The young woman she portrays matures and blossoms and then becomes conflicted as she struggles to make a decision about her future. Will Eilis make the right choice and will she be happy with it in the future? These are questions which you will enjoy discussing with your companions after you’ve watched this memorable movie, based on the book Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. ( )
Notwithstanding the saying, “Home is where the heart is,” Eilis (Ronan) is forced to leave hers. Rose (Fiona Glascott) loves her sister, and can buy her clothes but not a life in the 1950s in Enniscorthy, Ireland. Accepting her mixed blessing, Eilis sails to Brooklyn, New York, under Father Flood’s (Broadbent)—Irish born yet longtime ensconced in America—sponsorship. Eilis arrives with a job and lodging waiting. Mrs. Kehoe’s (Julie Walters) other boarders (Emily Bett Rickards, Eve Macklin, Nora-Jane Noone) tease and coach her. Still, she is miserable, homesick. Attending a church hall dance, she meets Tony (Cohen). Smitten, patient, and decided, his presence adds a sparkle to Eilis’s eyes and a bounce to her gait. So, when fate draws her back to Ireland, she admits not knowing where “home” is.
Director John Crowley bases his film on Colm Tóibín’s award winning novel. Emigration was pervasive; with job scarcity, large Irish Diasporas emerged around the world, including the USA. This haunting story’s strength is its simplicity: Eilis does not want to leave her home, but circumstances dictate, backed by her common sense. A part-time shop girl for the quarrelsome “Nettles” Kelly (Brid Brennan) offers no future. Saoirse Ronan epitomizes the mixed feelings of many emigrants; her emotional depiction dominates, in collaboration with a skillful cast. Subtle comparisons add volumes: Eilis’ mother (Brennan) and Mrs. Kehoe, and in the priests and laypeople’s mentalities on different shores. Michael Brook’s music, François Séguin’s production design, Yves Bélanger’s cinematography, and Jake Roberts’ editing further enhance atmospheric qualities. Some cliché’s—Eilis leaving the port terminal, her letter being read—can be overlooked. In essence, it boils down to choices, and then acceptance. But, sometimes malicious intent is a wake-up call when choosing between a conventional, or a wide-open future. 111 minutes