Festival Review: Brooklyn (2015)


A brilliant adaptation of Colm Tóibin’s novel, John Crowley’s Brooklyn is a funny and moving portrait of an Irish girl finding herself and emigrating to the USA.

Route Irish

by Mark Wilshin


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

After A Long Way Down and Wild, Nick Hornby’s latest screenplay Brooklyn is his best yet. Not only does it fire out smart, whipcrack dialogue – particularly around the Brooklyn boarding house dining table – but directed by John Crowley, Brooklyn is a faithful adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s delicate novel, distilled somehow into a more emotional and more lucid format. Following Eilis (Saiorse Ronan) as she leaves Enniscorthy in County Wexford for the bright lights of the United States of America, Brooklyn tells the story of her emigration from a cabin-bound meeting with glamorous New Yorker Georgina (Eva Birthistle) and new lodgings with Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters) and its “giddy” inhabitants, to Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) who arranged Eilis’s passage and her new Italian beau Tony (Emory Cohen). It’s not experiential – and the moment in Tóibín’s novel when Eilis ventures across the bridge to Manhattan for the first time after months living in Brooklyn is missing – John Crowley’s direction instead focusing on the ethnographic migration, as we watch teary-eyed faces bidding farewell at Cobh pier, or the builders of New York’s tunnels and bridges listening to songs from the homeland. But after the homesickness, Eilis does begin to settle, working at Bartocci’s department store, getting an education at night school as a bookkeeper and even getting married.

Above all though, Brooklyn is the story of returning home – finding one’s place in it for the first time and even imagining a life there – with a job and a beau in the form of Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) – before finally remembering the small-town interference and gossip mongering that provoked the exodus in the first place. And penned by gay Irish writer Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn works on a second level that almost escapes the original novel – the dark sexual secret of Eilis’ marriage becoming a metaphor for a forbidden love, her inability to find a place or a future in provincial Ireland until she goes away and finds herself a paradigm for a certain kind of queer pride. For, donning sunglasses and bright yellow dresses, Eilis is a glamorous outsider, fond of the charming world she left behind, but also a confirmed New Yorker, as she becomes a mentor to the new émigrées on board. With cinematography by Yves Bélanger, Brooklyn isn’t quite as ambitious as it should be – its Hopperesque reflections in American diner mirrors just too pale. But beautifully acted and scripted, Brooklyn is a deliciously emotional experience – with all the life, love and hopes of a brave New World.

Brooklyn is now showing at the London Film Festival

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