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The Irish novelist, Colm Toibin, has the knack of identifying with both genders, and being able to show their story convincingly from within. Eilis Lacey, the heroine of Brooklyn, is a good example of this empathetic quality, and it translates well in this fine adaptation.
Eilis is played with poise and stillness by Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, The Way Back). Stifled by parochial Ireland of the fifties, she leaves behind her sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), to find a new life in Brooklyn, the Irish enclave of New York. There she boards with other Irish girls under the gossipy supervision of her landlady, Mrs. Kehoe (a cracking performance from stalwart, Julie Walters). Though working as a shopgirl, Ellis wants to study to be an accountant like her big sister back home. After a time, Ellis meets a shy young Italian-American called Tony (Emory Cohen). He is fully Americanised and his confidence in the possibilities of The New World charms Eilis. When Eilis receives news that takes her back to Ireland, she goes reluctantly, but meets an eligible Irish bachelor called Jim (Domhnall Gleeson, who gets second billing, making a deep impact with only a few key scenes). Slowly, despite herself, she feels torn between people as well as between countries.
Director, John Crowley (Closed Circuit, Boy A), has a great feel for the material. The film should satisfy those who love the book as well as newcomers. The sense of place and time is skilfully suggested – not by set pieces, but rather lots of convincing small scenes – and the characters are believable and engaging. More importantly, the film – like the book – is appropriately understated. This suits the era, but it also connects us emotionally to the limbo of exile, and to the human need to reconnect a life that has been partially unplugged.