|Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey in "Brooklyn"
Monday was a grey day. Rather than twiddling my fingers at home, I ventured into the city centre to watch the film "Brooklyn" directed by John Crowley. Based upon a novel of the same name - written by Colm Tóibín, "Brooklyn" focuses upon a young Irish woman called Eilis Lacey played magnificently in the film by Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan.
Tearfully, Eilis leaves Ireland to seek her fortune in New York. Once she arrives, her homesickness is at first almost crippling but gradually she settles into her new life and meets a plumber called Tony from an Italian-American family. They fall in love and everything goes swimmingly until Eilis receives terrible news from the old country - her beloved sister Rose has died.
She returns to Ireland and soon it is as if her life with Tony had been nothing but a dream. Ireland is trapping her and she even meets an eligible bachelor called Jim with whom she has pleasant times. But Eilis is snapped out of her apparent submission during a meeting with the town of Enniscorthy's most uncharitable gossip - "Nettles" Kelly who has learnt that Eilis secretly married Tony before returning to Ireland. Something snaps in Eilis's mind and she determines to return to America, intent upon resuming her life with Tony.
The cinematography is superbly crafted and the central story is believable - making you think about the many thousands of emigrants that Eilis partly represents. Leaving home and making a new home in another land is never an easy thing to do. I must admit that at a few points during my viewing of "Brooklyn" my eyes filled with tears. Fortunately the cinema was pitch dark so nobody could see this happening.
One thing that disappointed me about "Brooklyn" was the way in which Ireland in the 1950's was portrayed. It appeared as well-heeled as New York and far too sugar-coated. There's no sense of the grinding poverty that drove so many people away from The Emerald Isle and the town of Enniscorthy looks as if it belongs in England's salubrious Home Counties. Why would Eilis want to leave it?
Another thing - just like Italians, Portugese or Swedes, many Irish people have a certain inherited look about them. It's in their genes. But in "Brooklyn", extras - such as the homeless Irishmen who attend the Christmas Day dinner in the church hall in Brooklyn - do not have that quintessential Irish look about them. In fact they look as if they are all from a southern Californian theatrical agency.
But these things apart, I enjoyed "Brooklyn". It was a nice diversion on a grey November afternoon and a beautifully polished film. Fragile, confused but ultimately determined, Saoirse Ronan was superb in her role and it was this towering yet subtle and richly empathetic performance that held the entire cinematic illusion together.
This is what the brilliant English film critic Mark Kermode said of her performance:
"With her timeless young/old face (shades of Grace Kelly?), minutely nuanced gestures and pitch-perfect vocal inflections, Ronan is a walking miracle, one of the most intelligent and compelling screen presences of her generation."
And of the film itself, he said
"Like its heroine, Brooklyn does not shout its virtues from the rooftops and it’s significant that the publicity has struggled to capture its anachronistic grace. No matter – those who discover the film, whether by design or accident, will be wooed by its subtle spell and enriched by its deceptively low-key charm."