Film Review: Brooklyn

November looks like being nostalgia month.  There’s re-issues of weepies Brief Encounter and Doctor Zhivago, as well as new arrivals The Dressmaker and Bridge Of Spies, but ahead of them all comes the adaptation of Colm Toibin’s best seller, Brooklyn.  London Mums’ resident film critic, Freda Cooper, took the journey to see how well it made the leap from page to screen.

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The story

In the early 1950s, teenager Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is growing up in a small Irish town.  Her older sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), is determined she should have a better future and arranges for her to go and live in America.  Once there, Eilis is desperately homesick and finds it difficult to settle, despite living in Brooklyn’s Irish community.  The opportunity to study at evening classes and meeting Italian American plumber Tony (Emory Cohen) help bring her out of her shell.  But then a family tragedy takes her back across the water and the pull of home, plus the attention of another man, forces her to decide where her future lies.

 

The trailer

 

The verdict

Set over 60 years ago, this has the look and feel of an old-style studio romance from way-back-when, something that would have been described as a romantic melodrama. Yet director John Crowley has pulled off something remarkable – marrying that style with all the technical attributes of 21st century. The photography is beautiful, from a small, intimate shot through a window with its out of focus wooden frame to the panoramas of Long Island and the deserted beach in Ireland. The camera doesn’t just concentrate on landscapes, though: it lingers on the actors’ faces, allowing them to show exactly what they can do without words.

Most memorable of all is the way the film uses colour. The soggy shades of Eilis’ home town in the rain and the dingy interior of her home are contrasted sharply with the bright, optimistic colours of America. As she steps through the door on Ellis Island, she’s bathed in blinding sunshine, as she grows up her lipstick gets bolder and brighter and so do her clothes – the glowing yellow dress, the head-turning green bathing costume.   And all of it knits together perfectly, thanks not just to Crowley but also a wonderfully flowing script from Nick Hornby.

 

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Crowley has chosen his cast intelligently as well, deliberately not going for a big star name in any of the lead roles.  Saoirse Ronan was nominated for an Oscar at the age of 13 for her role in Atonement.  Now at 21, she’s matured into a really strong screen presence and here she’s allowed to stretch herself and carry the film on her shoulders. It’s a performance of subtlety and assurance that allows us to watch as Eilis matures from a teenager in ankle socks to an intelligent, confident young woman who stands out from the crowd.  The two men in her life are played by Domhnall Gleeson and the lesser-known Emory Cohen.  Both prove to be up to the challenge of playing genuinely nice guys and Cohen is particularly good as the Italian American plumber with just a touch of the young Sinatra about him.  There’s also some joyous comic relief, courtesy of Julie Walters as the landlady of Ellis’ boarding house, who doles out food, orders and rebukes in equal measure.

 

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Mums’ rating: 8/10             

Brooklyn gives us a personal story set against a sweeping, almost epic, background and it’s gorgeous to look at.  A fresh tone and impressive performances, especially from the younger members of the cast, all come together to make a very satisfying film.  The scale of its background doesn’t prevent it from being delicate and heartfelt, so be warned: it will cause a sniffle or two!

 

Brooklyn is released in cinemas nationwide on Friday, 6 November and will be reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 5 November 2015.

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