This strong adaptation of Colm Tóbín’s novel, the story of one woman’s experience of emigration to America in the 1950s, is a touching period drama and director John Crowley’s best film since Boy A.
Eilis Lacey (Ronan) feels guilty about leaving her older sister (Fiona Glascott) with their mother but Enniscorthy is too small and she wants away for America. Nervous and naive about the journey, she’s given tips on the boat from expat Georgina (Eva Birthistle) and, upon arrival in New York, moves into a boarding house under the watchful eye of Mrs. Kehoe (Walters). Thanks to kindly Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), Eilis finds herself working in a department store where Mad Men’s Jessica Paré takes her under her wing. Handsome Italian-American Tony (Cohen) helps her feelings of homesick subside but bad news from her sister urges her to return to Enniscorthy…
Insecure but confident, unsure yet determined, a luminous and elegant Soairse Ronan hasn’t been better. She occupies the middle ground of being a naïve and at the mercy of this strange city yet savvy and displaying enough quiet strength to possibly make it. And she does it without saying much or emoting wildly: it’s a reserved, confident turn. Backing her up is an eye-catching performance from Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond The Pines), whose heart-on-sleeve hopeless romantic could so easily come across as disingenuous if it wasn’t for his natural charisma (and classic New York twang). The era is beautifully realised with real attention given to costumes but this is no stiff period drama. The boarding house dinner scenes, with Julie Walters holding court, are a hoot, and Tony’s cheeky scamp kid brother and boring lodger Dolores (Jenn Murray) bring some laughs too.
It doesn’t have it all its own way. Crowley can overegg the pudding with some slow motion/blinding light shots (the passing through the door at Ellis Island is a touch overdone) and everything happens a little too easily for Eilis, who finds herself a nice place, a nice man a nice job, and a nice boss with little or no hassle. The one villain (Bríd Brennan’s vicious old crone representing the worst of Ireland) has only three short scenes.
However, Nick Hornby infuses his screenplay with an air of loneliness and disconnection, and just as it gets dangerously close to another two hour happy ending (the terrible The Blind Side and the worse The Intern) some much-needed dramatic tension comes from a trip back home where Eilis is tugged between a new life in Wexford with a new job and romance in the shape of handsome Jim Farrell (Gleeson), and the one she has made for herself in New York.
Delicate and tender with some strong performances, Brooklyn should be in and about the awards come Oscar night.