Film review: Brooklyn (12A)

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn.
Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn.
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Quite apart from the fact this epic love story has an exclusive preview at the 29th Leeds International Film Festival, which begins in the city today, there are other good reasons you should make time to see it.

Young hearts run free on opposite sides of the Atlantic in John Crowley’s handsome romance, adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby from Colm Toibin’s novel.

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Learn more about the exclusive Leeds preview here

Set in the early 1950s, Brooklyn harks back to a bygone era of restrictive social mores and is anchored by a tour-de-force performance from Saoirse Ronan as an innocent abroad, whose journey from County Wexford to the towering skyscrapers of New York coincides with her awkward transition to womanhood.

The 21-year-old Irish-American actress doesn’t hit a false emotional note, contrasting the naivete of her heroine’s early days away from home with the self-assurance of an immigrant, who finally realises that she belongs.

Sweeping production and costume design evoke the era with aplomb, accentuated by Michael Brook’s gorgeous orchestral score. Equally appealing are Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson as rival suitors for the heroine’s affections.

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Both actors kindle smouldering on-screen chemistry with Ronan, so we’re undecided, like her, which she should choose. Eilis lives with her mother (Jane Brennan) and older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) in Enniscorthy and earns a meagre crust - and withering rebukes - at the local shop run by the imperious Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan).

Thanks to Rose, Eilis secures a one-way ticket to a brighter future in New York.

Holy man Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) places Eilis at a boarding house for single girls. Her homesickness gradually fades and she excels as a salesgirl at a department store under stylish floor manager Miss Fortini (Jessica Pare).

She also sparks a tender romance with a handsome plumber called Tony (Cohen).

Painfully innocent to courtship rituals, Eilis turns to the other girls at the boarding house and they advise her to carefully choose her bathing costume for an impending trip to Coney Island beach.

“It’s the most Tony will have seen of you and you don’t want to put him off,” they cackle.

The lovebirds marry in secret, but when Eilis returns home to Enniscorthy, local boy Jim Farrell (Gleeson) unexpectedly turns her head and makes her hanker for small-town life.

Brooklyn is classic love triangle, with elegant storytelling and swoonsome visuals.

Gentle comedy, courtesy of Walters in fine lip-pursing form, underpins the anguished vacillations of the heart and stokes dramatic tension as Eilis dithers between her two paramours.

Toibin’s lyrical dialogue trips off the tongue in Hornby’s script, succinctly capturing the ebb and flow of life for young dreamers, who come to realise that home isn’t necessarily where you were born.

Rating: 4/5

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