Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Fifties Ireland: Eilis must confront a terrible dilemma — a heartbreaking choice between two men and two countries, between duty and true love.
"With old-school romance pumping through its veins, fans of the genre will find this a pleasing indulgence." | Photo: Kerry Brown

The story of emigres to America is a path well-trodden by filmmakers, from Charlie Chaplin's romantic comedy The Immigrant through to more recent, altogether more gritty tales of northward migration, such as Sin Nombre and The Golden Dream. What lends Brooklyn a feeling of freshness is its female-centric narrative, which offers a change of perspective in the "Irish worker tries to make it in America" scenario. John Crowley's film - which sees Nick Hornby adapt Colm Tóibín's book for the screen - is also unashamedly romantic, employing the Catherine Cookson/Barbara Taylor Bradford technique of testing the likeable central character's resolve on both a work and romantic level.

Saoirse Ronan plays small-town Irish gal Eilis Lacey, who dreams of expanding her horizons as far as New York, booking herself carriage on a boat and settling in an all-women Brooklyn boarding house, kept under the watchful eye and acidic tongue of Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters).

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Hornby really captures the way that distance has changed since the 50s, whereas now we can converse with anyone anywhere so long as they can get themselves to an internet connection, then it was a case of taking your troubles to the parish priest while you waited for a letter to arrive. He also taps into the sense of loss that can come even before a person moves, with Eilis' last few days in Ireland with her long-time pal Nancy (Eileen O'Higgins) and sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) intended as a heart-string tugger from the get-go. But, as Eilis is told, "Homesickness - it'll make you feel wretched, then it'll move on to somebody else".

Eilis is a likeable heroine and Ronan gives her space to breathe and transform from someone smart but timid into a more worldly decision-maker. As she adapts to her new environment, she also finds romance with Tony (Emory Cohen) - who comes from an Italian emigre family, with a scene in which she attempts to eat spaghetti one of several good uses of humour. Things get tricky, however, when Eilis finds herself back in Ireland and suddenly confronted with the possibility of resuming a better version of her old life, with the added attentions of local lad Jim (Domhnall Gleeson).

With old-school romance pumping through its veins, fans of the genre will find this a pleasing indulgence that builds up a head of emotional steam to make any tears shed feel earned rather than frogmarched into your ducts. Although the idea of being torn between two suitors may seem old hat, Hornby makes sure Eilis' choice is incredibly difficult - both men are lovely, her alternative lives appealing - so that it is brimful with genuine suspense.

The acting is terrific, with relative newcomer Cohen more than holding his own against Ronan in a performance that will surely result in us seeing a lot more of him soon. Hornby also balances the romantic entanglements with less sugary emotions, such as loneliness, and puts Walters to good use as comic relief. Crowley's film - beautifully shot by Yves Belanger - has a look that defies its modest budget, particularly in the use of colour in the costumes by Odile Dicks-Mireaux. Eilis' transformation through her outfits - frequently involving the 'pop' of green - serves to underline her emotional transition. Just once or twice, particularly in the use of unecessary slow motion, Crowley threatens to lay it on a bit too thick, but the performances anchor this in a reality that, though fiercely romantic, also feels as though it could have happened to someone once upon a time.

Reviewed on: 31 Aug 2015
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1950s Ireland: Eilis must confront a terrible dilemma — a heartbreaking choice between two men and two countries.
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Director: John Crowley

Writer: Nick Hornby, based on the novel by Colm Tóibín

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan, Brid Brennan, Eileen O'Higgins, Michael Zegen, Maeve McGrath, Emily Bett Rickards

Year: 2015

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Ireland, UK, Canada

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The Golden Door