I actually have read the book this movie is based on. A few years back when the library I work at was starting to circulate Nooks, we formed a reading group to test the devices and Colm Toibin’s novel was the book we read. It’s not a very good novel. The main character Eilis is frustratingly passive and is carried along by the actions of others. She takes forever to make her decision and even then it is forced on her.
However, to make a good movie adaptation, you do not necessarily need to start with a good novel. And with Nick Hornby handling the screenwriting duties, high hopes for this project are definitely called for. It has a very good cast and the director, John Crowley has some critically acclaimed films on his resume as well.
Since there are few prospects in 1950’s Ireland it is decided by Eilis’s sister, Rose, played by Fiona Glascott and Father Flood, played by Jim Broadbent, that Eilis, played by Saorise Ronan, should immigrate to New York. Father Flood is already a priest for a church in Brooklyn and he has arranged a boarding house for her and paid for a year of accounting courses at Brooklyn Community College. He also gets her a job in a department store.
While in the depths of homesickness she meets an Italian man named Tony, played by Emory Cohen. He is sweet but a little rough around the edges, smart but uneducated, a rabid Dodgers fan but he knows when people aren’t interested in hearing about it. They start dating regularly and quickly fall in love.
When Rose dies back in the old country, Eilis feels she has to go back, presumably for a visit but Tony suspects that once she’s there, she will be tempted to stay. So he proposes and they get married before her trip. It turns out that Tony was right and Eilis is torn between staying in Ireland and returning to her life in America.
The events in the movie follow the book fairly closely, but the movie is saved by the script, which puts a different interpretation on various events. For instance, in the book you definitely get the feeling that marrying Tony is a mistake. In the movie, his kindness and prospects are highlighted by an extra line here and there. In the book it was made clear that Eilis would not be allowed to work if she married Tony. The movie does not mention that as an issue.
There is also the acting. Emory Cohen plays up Tony’s good guy qualities. From the moment he meets Eilis he can only look at her with pure love in his eyes.
Saorise Ronan gives Eilis a fierce intelligence and will that is not evident in the book. She shows growth from the shy girl at the beginning of the film who’s content to have her life planned out for her to the assured young woman at the end who is not afraid to make the correct choice, even when the wrong choice would have been easier and pleased more people around her.
Brooklyn is a beautiful looking film with detailed and lived in sets. The costumes are beautiful and the lighting is distinctive. I’m sure they had to use some CGI to recreate the New York skyline in the fifties but you can’t tell.
But the main draw is the acting and the script. Brooklyn is a rare phenomenon: a movie that’s better than the book.


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