It’s like the those melodramatic films from the fifties by directors like Douglas Sirk have never left. Brooklyn is a beautifully shot and designed film full of retro charm. Saoirse Ronan is utterly compelling as Eilis, a shy, innocent Irish girl who gets the chance to emigrate to Brooklyn and break free of her seemingly dead end life back home. She suffers from homesickness at first, but then she begins to find her feet in her new job in a department store before meeting Tony (Emory Cohen) who she begins to date. However Eilis still has problems building across the Atlantic Ocean back in Ireland.
Brooklyn is not a love letter to the eponymous New York borough as one might expect; it is not a postcard, travel agent friendly film like the woeful Begin Again from 2013. We see very little exterior shots of the famous New York skyline, I can only remember one when the ship full of Irish immigrants comes in to port for the first time. I think there’s only one shot of the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance as well. I found this refreshing as so many films set in New York feel the need for a full montage of every landmark in the most filmed city in cinema history in all probability. We all know what the Statue of Liberty looks like for goodness sake (she’s not in this film, for once). The relative lack of New York scenery in Brooklyn might be because this film is a joint venture between Britain, Ireland and Canada. It’s great to have different perspectives of a place we all know already. It’s similar in that regard to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America; another foreigners’ eye on an iconic landscape.
So rather than focus heavily on the landscape Brooklyn is all about the characters. I would expect Saoirse Ronan to be right at the forefront of any awards gossip for her performance, but there are numerous performances that deserve praise as well. Julie Walters is extremely funny, as she often is, as Mrs Kehoe who runs the boarding house where Eilis and other young girls live in Brooklyn. Eva Birthistle is outstanding as Georgina, the well worn traveller who acts as a mentor to Eilis on her first, messy, trip across the ocean. She is only on screen for at most ten minutes, but she’s a vital character for Eilis’ development.
Brooklyn is a beautiful film that only lacks a truly satisfying ending. Watching the film you realise the central dilemma of the film only occurs quite late in the film, and then it’s all wrapped up a bit too quickly. However that does not detract from the sensational central performance of Ronan and the immaculate period design.
3 (and a half) Stars
Review by Robbie Sunderland