D: John Crowley. DP: Yves Bélanger. W: Nick Hornby (based on Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name). Starring: Saoirse Ronan/Emory Cohen/Domhnall Gleeson/Julie Walters/Jim Broadbent/Fiona Glascott/Jesscia Paré.
One of my many pleasures in reading is seeking out books that are to be adapted for the screen. This has lead me to read many a novel I would otherwise never pick up or indeed challenge myself to read a 900 page Russian novel (I’m looking at you Anna Karenina). Rarely am I pleased with an adaptation to the point where I might slightly prefer the film. This is the case with Brooklyn and Nick Hornby’s adaption of Colm Tóibín’s novel, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2009.
Brooklyn is a story of homesickness, of being of two places, two minds, and of learning whom you are, no matter where you live. The film, like the novel, is structured into three acts as Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) leaves her Irish village to live and work in Brooklyn, N.Y., but return home when a family tragedy occurs. Her emigration to the States is not an act of will or dreams of her own, but rather the wish of her elder sister Rose’s (Fiona Glascott) desire for her to have better life. As revealed in the trailers, Eilis falls in love while in Brooklyn and is presented with another romantic option when she returns to Ireland.
Nick Hornby, who most recently adapted Wild, excels here with his adaption of the novel. The story is trimmed in the right places and is able to hit all the ranges of Eilis’ physical and emotional journey across the Atlantic. There are few actual changes, with the ending being the main one as it is dialed up to deliver a proper cinematic punch that the novel did not provide. Hornby’s fluency in fiction and clear skill at knowing what works in cinema is one of the highlights of this project. Director John Crowley and Canadian cinematographer Yves Bélanger (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club) make an excellent team focusing on Ronan’s face as the axis of emotional action for the film. Costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux works wonders with color and clothes so the 1950s remains a setting and not an overcooked look.
This is the first Irish set film for Irish actress Ronan, known for her brilliant child performance in 2007’s Atonement and subsequent films like The Lovely Bones, The Host and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Her eyes are a translucent cerulean blue that shimmer in an open round-face, that registers even the slightest flicker of emotion. In nearly every scene of Brooklyn Ronan is the compass, and delivers the audience the shades of Eilis’ journey. Her chemistry with Emory Cohen (who plays her Italian American love Tony in Brooklyn) is fabulous. Cohen’s smile brings Tony right off the pages of the novel. Domnhall Gleeson, whose career is on a fiery trajectory, gives a restrained performance as Jim, the Irish love option back ‘home.’ Julie Walters is also brilliant as the woman who runs the boarding house Eilis’ lives in; greater humor is given to the veteran actress.
Brooklyn will surely soar through awards season, and it is rightly deserved for a film with such a low budget it could only shoot two days in Brooklyn, its main location. Released at a timely moment in the UK with emigration a hot topic here, the film is ultimately an exploration of our definitions of home. What happens when you are no longer of the place you were born, but don’t quite fit into a new place yet. Languishing in this nebulous emotional space, the film remains true to the idea that people make our lives. All I can conclude with is, go see it.