Screenwriter Nick Hornby’s masterful adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s bestselling novel may be set in the 1950s, but its ideas about immigration, displacement and the evolution of the family unit are entirely modern in their outlook thanks to its female-centric narrative.
These universal themes are explored through the deeply personal experience of young Irish girl Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) who, finding her ambitions unfulfilled by her small hometown, sets off to harness the opportunities promised by New York City. Although initially homesick, Eilis soon begins to carve out a new life – helped enormously by dashing local Tony (Emory Cohen) – but finds her loyalties torn when tragedy strikes back home.
While far from an original story, that Brooklyn is told from the perspective of an industrious young woman gives it a sense of vim and vigour that’s augmented by a stunning central performance from Ronan. While she’s previously impressed in films like Hanna and Byzantium (and was Oscar-nominated for her supporting work in Atonement), this is undoubtedly Ronan’s coming-of-age role, and she conveys Eilis’s quiet strength in the face of huge emotional turmoil without a hint of melodrama. Indeed, while she may be somewhat constrained by the moral codes of the day, Ronan plays Eilis as a strong, contemporary heroine.
Elsewhere, and despite some heavy-handed moments – including an over-reliance on slow-motion – director John Crowley (Boy A, Closed Circuit) shows enough restraint with the material to let Ronan’s performance lead the way. He’s helped by a tremendous supporting cast, most notably Cohen, Fiona Glascott as the sister left behind and Julie Walters, who lends some balanced comic relief as Eilis’s opinionated landlady.
While Brooklyn is undoubtedly a performance driven film, it’s also visually vibrant. The sumptuous colour palette and evocative cinematography from Yves Bélanger (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) capture the contrasts of insular rural Ireland and the gleaming, soaring Big Apple, so underscoring the enormous journey upon which Eilis has embarked. It’s absolutely impossible not to be swept up in her story.
This review was originally published at The List