Old fashioned in the best possible sense is a good way to describe Brooklyn, director John Crowley’s adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel. Not only does it hark back to the great “woman’s picture” movies of the 1930s and 40s, but it will also strike a chord with anyone who has had to adjust to life far from home in a new country, thanks largely to a completely convincing central performance from Saoirse Ronan.
Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, who leaves Ireland for a new life in 1950s New York. Here she is assisted by kindly priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) and no-nonsense landlady Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters). At first Eilis feels cripplingly homesick, but soon she finds her feet, eventually falling for the charms of Italian-American Tony (Emory Cohen). However, unexpected news from Ireland precipitates a return to her home country, where another potential suitor Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) awaits. Eventually Eilis finds herself torn between two worlds.
On the surface, there is nothing particularly remarkable about Brooklyn. It is understated, gentle and considerably less melodramatic than the trailer makes it appear. However subtle but strong performances from the entire cast (particularly the afore-mentioned Ronan) really make us care about the characters. Nick Hornby’s screenplay also contains many intriguing little details and vignettes – from the charity Christmas dinner with down and out elderly Irishmen (whom, we are told, helped build American bridges, buildings, railways and so forth), to the awkward dances Eilis and other single girls attend hoping to find romance. On top of this, the smaller characters are often imbued with a deep, heart-warming humanity (the wonderful Mrs Kehoe for instance) that rings very true. Crowley’s direction is restrained and unshowy, giving the film an authentic feel despite the odd chocolate box edge. Another plus is that politics are mercifully absent from the picture, so nothing is mentioned about the troubles (thank goodness).
Ultimately, Brooklyn works very well as an understated, likeable and moving story of leaving home and coming of age, old fashioned in the best possible sense.