How to be at home in the world

MY one in a million: Saoirse Ronan is Eilis and Emory Cohen is Tony. Photograph courtesy

WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER the crisp freshness in John Crowley’s Brooklyn, a filmic interpretation of Colm Toibin’s novel of the same name, you will realise that it is all pervading. From the use of dress to the understanding of light, colour, narrative and performance, this 2015 film is nothing short of perfect and was recently made available on Showmax.

It’s not very often that a film adaptation reaches the same pinnacle of unadorned magic as its written counterpart. Taking 300-odd pages of the average sized novel and knocking it into 90 minutes or so, in a completely different medium, is a task more complex than it seems. Crowley takes a monumentally simple tale and keeps that monumentality intact, honouring ordinary values with a sacredness that makes you want to whisper about it.

And while the colour washes and clothing detail punctuate the work with unabashed, unforced lightness, it is Saoirse Ronan’s performance as Eilis Lacey, the central character, that presents a character with both savvy and elegance, wit and fears but without pushing either to a level of obviousness. 

Her role in the 2018 film On Chesil Beach, directed by Dominic Cooke and based on a novel by Ian McEwan, was in essence a similar one, where most of the character’s machinations were internal. But try as it might, the work just didn’t sing. Here, three years earlier, we have an ordinary artless young woman in early 20th century America taking a chance on a new life and facing new immigrant challenges with a thoughtful pragmaticism that blows your hair back. Ronan feels on so many levels like the ‘Meryl Streep’ of this generation. She has a classic – not conventional – beauty, but a filmic presence that enables her to be everywoman.

Also featuring the inimitable Dame Julie Walters, it’s a story about love, sisters, the barbs and fierceness of friends, discovering the self and making terribly difficult choices, and it follows plot lines that you could find in a million romances. But this one is different and special because of its tone and texture, its unapologetic ordinariness and frankness.

Clean of any of the hijinks and tricks in contemporary filmmaking, it could have been made in the 1950s, given its candid, poetic simplicity. Its beauty and the curious lack of bolshy brazenness that has become de rigueur in easily told romances makes it resonate like few films in this era can. It is a treasure to watch and rewatch.

Brooklyn (2015) is directed by John Crowley and features a cast headed by Karen Ardiff, Adrien Benn, Eva Birthistle, Brid Brennan, Jane Brennan, Jim Broadbent, Peter Campion, Mella Carron, Emory Cohen, Denis Conway, James Corscadden, Ellen David, Christian de la Cortina, James DiGiacomo, Barbara Drennan, Hugh Gormley, Fiona Glascott, Domhnall Gleeson, Alain Goulem, Hudson Leblanc, Emma Lowe, Gary Lydon, Eve Macklin, Niamh McCann, Gillian McCarthy, Maeve McGrath, Tadhg McMahon, Samantha Munro, Nora-Jane Noone, Paulino Nunes, Mary O’Driscoll, Eileen O’Higgins, Iarla O’Lionaird, Áine Ní Mhuirí, Jenn Murray, Jessica Paré, Emily Bett Rickards, Ellis Rockburn, Saoirse Ronan, Erika Rosenbaum, Paul Stewart, Max Walker, Julie Walters, Jane Wheeler and Michael Zegen . Written by Nick Hornby, based on the eponymous novel by Colm Tóibín, it is produced by Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, and features creative input by Michael Brook (music), Yves Bélanger (cinematography), Jake Roberts (editing), Fiona Weir (casting), François Séquin (production design) and Odile Dicks-Mireaux (costumes). It is available on ShowMax.

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