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Film review: Brooklyn - Saoirse Ronan shines in swooning migrant’s tale

Beautifully measured story about family, independence and the pain of separation in a pre-internet age is romantic but never sentimental, rapturously filmed and has appeal for young and old alike

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 March, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 March, 2016, 10:31am

One of this year’s awards season contenders, John Crowley’s Brooklyn is an old-fashioned, beautifully measured story about family, independence and the pain of separation. Set in 1952, Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis (pronounced Ay-Lish), a young lady from the small town of Enniscorthy in Ireland who decides to make the leap and head for America, leaving behind her sister and mother.

Adapted with élan from Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel by Nick Hornby, immigration stories may be ten-a-penny, but rarely have the details been so adeptly laid bare: the sea-sickness of her Atlantic crossing followed by the tears and heartache of being away from loved ones. In a pre-internet age when communication was restricted to letters and the occasional overseas phone call, Crowley (Intermission, Boy A) captures it perfectly.

SEE ALSO: For Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn is art imitating life

When Eilis does settle in Brooklyn, she is aided by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), the local priest, with a job in a department store and lodgings in a house run by Julie Walters’ well-meaning landlady. Falling for local Italian-American Tony (Emory Cohen), Eilis’ transition seems complete but when she returns to Ireland after a family tragedy, she meets Jim (Domhnall Gleeson). Suddenly, her heart is torn.

Dealing in strong, heartfelt emotions, Brooklyn is romantic but never sentimental; there’s a layer of realism to Eilis’ journey, aided by Ronan’s mature performance (in another year, she’d have claimed the Oscar for best actress). Rapturously shot by cinematographer Yves Bélanger, the costumes and design, like the emotions, never feel overstated. Genuinely, it’s a film that spans the generations.

Brooklyn opens on March 10

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