The release of Brooklyn this week signals the beginning of awards season, with the film likely to pick up a number of Oscar and BAFTA nominations across several categories. If that’s the case, then they will be richly deserved. This is a beautifully made, achingly romantic drama that packs a powerfully emotional punch.
Based on the novel by Colm Tóibin and directed by John Crowley (with a script by Nick Hornby), the film is set in 1950 and stars Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, a young woman in rural Ireland who’s offered the chance of a new life in New York, with accommodation and a job in a department store arranged by kindly Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). Knowing that America represents a great opportunity, Eilis accepts, even though it means leaving behind her older sister (Fiona Glascott) and her mother (Jane Brennan).
Settling into both her new job and a boarding house run by protective Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters), Eilis is initially desperately homesick, but her situation changes when she meets charming Italian-American Tony (Emory Cohen) and the pair gradually fall in love. However, things get complicated when tragedy strikes and Eilis is forced to return home to Ireland, where she becomes attracted to an eligible young man (Domhnall Gleeson) and has to decide which life she wants for herself.
Ronan is perfectly cast as Eilis and she thoroughly inhabits the role, presenting a seemingly quiet exterior, yet conveying heart-breaking emotion with just the flicker of her eyes. As such, it’s an utterly mesmerising performance that completely draws you in, to the point where you keenly feel everything she’s feeling. She also has palpable chemistry with Cohen, who’s something of a revelation as Tony, delivering a charming and perfectly pitched performance that has a definite hint of Marlon Brando around the edges. As a result, the central romance exerts a powerful pull that will have you catching your breath.
In addition, Crowley has assembled a terrific supporting cast, with stand-outs including a scene-stealing Walters as Mrs Kehoe (“No more talk of our Lord’s complexion at dinner”) and Eva Birthistle as a glamorous fellow boat passenger, who takes Eilis under her wing and gives her valuable tips on toilet strategy and how to get through the immigration check. There’s also an amusing turn from James DiGiacomo as Tony’s smart-mouthed younger brother, while a shrewdly cast Gleeson sparks intriguingly different chemistry with Ronan, so that you really feel the pull of the alternate life he offers Eilis.
Hornby’s script packs in a wealth of detail, layering in plenty of humour and conveying strong emotion in a way that never feels forced or overly sentimental, while the deceptively simple story explores strongly resonant coming-of-age themes, most notably on the guilt of leaving home. On top of that, the film looks sensational, with gorgeous cinematography from Yves Bélanger and eye-catchingly colourful costume design work from Odile Dicks-Mireaux. The film is packed full of terrific moments, such as Eilis getting a pre-date lesson in how to eat spaghetti without making a mess, and has one of the best final scenes in recent memory.
This is a powerfully emotional romantic drama that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
Brooklyn is in cinemas from today, November 6