Ireland, 1952. A young woman called Eilis Lacey works part time in a shop. She despises the owner the poisonous Miss Kelly, but there is no work in her small town of Enniscorthy. The lack of opportunity leads her older sister Rose to arrange for her passage to the United States. As reluctant as she is to leave her mother and her sister, Eilis makes the journey. On her way over, she finds herself in a cabin with a more experienced woman who informs her of the mysterious land to which they are heading. She tells Eilis that she wished she had never returned to Ireland. Eilis can’t imagine what her new life will be like. She can’t imagine thinking of America as home.
When she arrives in the USA, Eilis is helped by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) who emigrated years previously. He arranges for her accommodation at a women’s boarding house run by the matronly Madge Kehoe. He also finds her a job at Bartocci’s department store. Eilis has to find her way in a new culture and overcome her small town shyness in the giant city she now calls home.
And then an earthquake hits which precipitates a tsunami…kidding! There are big events in Eilis’s life, but this is a small story set in a time of relative (American) prosperity. It is precisely the ordinariness of Eilis Lacey’s existence, that makes this a feat of storytelling. Nothing huge happens in BROOKLYN, but director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby bring out the nuance and commonplace drama of Colm Tóibín’s award-winning novel. Audiences with long memories might be put in mind of the kitchen sink realism of 1950s British film, theatre and literature. The images themselves are more beautiful than that would suggest, but the interaction between characters is at a personal and intimate scale.
Saoirse Ronan puts in a beautiful, restrained performance as Eilis. Emory Cohen is faintly anachronistic as Tony Fiorello, an Italian who likes Irish women. Julie Walters is robustly amusing as Madge Kehoe and Jim Broadbent, who often likes to go big, chews no scenery in this outing. There are times when the computer-generated version of old Brooklyn seems a little too clean, which at a guess, probably reflects the film’s very tight budget. That being said, the 1950s look and feel of the movie is mostly convincing.
BROOKLYN is near the end of its Australian run and should be seen by anyone who is interested in a story about leaving home and building a life elsewhere. This is a simple tale, satisfyingly told. 112 minutes. (6/10)
NOTE: Fans of 1950s New York department stores recreated for the movies, should consider watching this in a double bill with CAROL (2015).