Based on the 2009 award-winning novel of the same name, written by Irish author Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn is a historical period drama directed by John Crowley and screenplay written by Nick Hornby.
Set in 1950s Ireland, Brooklyn follows Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish girl who reluctantly moves to Brooklyn with the promise of a job. Although Eilis didn’t want to leave the comfort of her quaint hometown and the company of her mother and sister, the initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish when she is swept into a fresh romance with Italian plumber Antonio “Tony” Fiorello (Emory Cohen). But when tragedy forces Eilis back to Ireland, she is faced with temptation when the charming Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) enters her life. With her new vivacity disrupted by her past, Eilis must now choose between two countries and two loves.
The following post is a review of the film only. You can read my review of the book on its own here or my comparison of the film to the book here.
Colm Tóibín‘s novel that the film is based upon is a literary delight. Incredibly well written, Tóibín uses plain prose and a simple linear structure, but his writing reads like poetry as he adds detached detail to almost every sentence. It’s easy to see why the novel is so well praised, telling a simple story about a young girl transforming into a woman, finding her own way in life as an immigrant in a big city.
But although I enjoyed reading the novel, it was pretty uneventful for the most part and it was only until the final few chapters where we meet Jim that I was eager to read through until the end and find out what happens. John Crowley‘s film adaptation, however, moves you from the very start until the closing scenes. Working alongside the incredibly talented Nick Hornby, he and Crowley have adapted this novel perfectly, creating a true gem of a film set around an elegantly sophisticated story.
There are many reasons as to why Brooklyn works so well as a film, with the visuals being one of the biggest factors. Both the characters and the locations are brought to life beautifully. Seeing the contrasts of Eilis’ pretty hometown to the inflated lifestyle of the city heightens both the experience that Eilis is going through but also gives the story a breath-taking backdrop.
The casting is spot on, too, and it is Saoirse Ronan‘s elegance that adds to this visual beauty as well as the exceptionally talented performance that she leads the film with. The story really wouldn’t have been the same with any other actress, as she completely embraces every characteristic of her role.
I didn’t particularly relate to Eilis in the novel, as she is quite a dull character when you really think about it. But this isn’t merely a matter of opinion, as the novel opens with Eilis sat watching everybody else in her town, observing their lives rather than living her own. She has a few passions, but mainly she does as she is told and it is these constraints that paint her personality traits. Then again, the story is set in 1950s Ireland and women did have to conform to society, and if Eilis wasn’t so naive and inexperienced, this wouldn’t be the story that it is.
Crowley handles the characters, their situations and their emotions so well that the film made me cry three times, whereas I felt very little emotion towards the novel at all. Maybe it was because of Ronan’s phenomenal portrayal of the character, but I did relate much more to Eilis in the film. To see Ronan’s emotional journey on-screen made her struggle more relatable, as we engage with a character who really has no control of her own life.
Much like she didn’t have any choice in where moving to Brooklyn at the beginning, it seems that Eilis didn’t have much of a choice in either of her relationships, either, as she constantly floats between decisions that are being made for her. The ultimatum that she is faced with at the end of the story isn’t really down to her, either, as she must choose between having what she’s always wanted, but under the watchful eyes of everybody around her, or she can return to America where she is granted a little freedom, but where she must live the life that Tony has had planned for her all along.
Still, Eilis stands up for herself for the first time at the end of the story, which is truly admirable. Crowley handles these scenes incredibly well, making a few changes to the novel to highlight the strength of character in Eilis. It is these closing moments that make her such a likeable character, and it is for this reason that I prefer Eilis’ character in the film than in the novel.
I’ve already commented on how well Ronan led the film, but the supporting cast is just as excellent. Another thing that benefits the adaptation is how likeable that Emory Cohen makes Tony. I didn’t like his character at all in the novel, and he does come across a little pushy in the film, as he should, but Cohen makes his character so adorable that you can’t help but want Eilis to go all the way with him.
I was rooting for Jim, however, mostly because of how he wants Eilis to make up her own decisions, but also because I’m a huge fan of Domhnall Gleeson which was an excellent casting move. Jim Broadbent as Father Flood and Julie Walters as Madge Kehoe are brilliant, too, with the whole casting bringing so much talent to such a well-adapted film.
Just like Tóibín’s novel, Brooklyn is elegant, breathtakingly beautiful, and a real emotional journey. It should satisfy fans of the novel, but also newcomers to the story with the perfected casting. I wouldn’t read the novel again, but the film adaptation has made it into my all-time favourites, and that is down to the beautiful story that Tóibín has created.