Director: John Crowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent
Watch Brooklyn online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
How do you build a life in a new country? That’s the question facing Eilis (Ronan) in Brooklyn – until it’s replaced by another, equally tough question: what if you then realise you could have an equally perfect life back where you came from? Brooklyn manages to answer both, along with another, equally challenging question: how do you make a movie about a place without actually filming there?
The visuals are carefully assembled in John Crowley’s period drama, but the script is the key. Nick Hornby adapts Colm Toibin’s novel for the screen with typical wit and heart, creating a story that manages to be full of cheerful hope and painful nostalgia in equal measure. Saoirse Ronan shines in the lead, the excellent make-up and costume team making her as plain and blank as possible against the vibrant, colourful New York scene. Her face, which so subtly shifts between emotions, is perfect for the conflicted part – ably matched by Cohen’s swoonsome American suitor, Tony, who, unlike our heroine, never feels less than certain about his feelings. (After this and The Place Beyond the Pines, you suspect Emory is one smile away from heartthrob stardom.)
Tony is as charming as Eilis’ boy back in Ireland, Jim (Gleeson), is polite (between Star Wars and Ex Machina, Domhnall’s undoubtedly on roll right now). Spending as much time with each of the men, we feel her torn affection mentally, as well as emotionally; as soon as we’ve gotten used to one romance, the plot wrenches us away to admire another. The jolt is smoothed by Julie Walters’ hilariously uptight landlady, who also helps to juggle the simultaneously cheerful and sad mood.
It’s the understanding of what makes a home, though, that gives Brooklyn its old-fashioned magic. Crowley shoots the tranquility of Ireland’s Wexford with a twinkle in his lens – there’s no faking that genuine location – but it’s the gradual assembling of clothes, cosmetics, work colleagues and confidence that makes Brooklyn so convincing. That attention to period detail, the act of reconstructing New York in Montreal (where they actually made the movie), becomes an intrinsic part of Eilis’ journey; her character and her costume are pieced together in the same way that each part of her life falls into place. As the film goes on, Eilis looks more and more American and feels more and more real – and her tale becomes more and more moving. The result is a funny and unabashedly sentimental study of identity, belonging and starting over. It doesn’t matter where you watch Brooklyn: you’ll cry all the same.
Brooklyn is available on BBC iPlayer until 8th September 2019.
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