Director: John Crowley
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent
‘Brooklyn’ is a melodrama – a proper old fashioned melodrama, part of a drama sub-genre. The last proper melodrama that I saw was ‘Far from Heaven’ (2002), starring Julianne Moore, a visually stunning film with an overt nod to the master of melodrama himself – Douglas Sirk. But ‘Brooklyn’ has surely reinvigorated this genre, taking it from the predominant sphere labelled “women’s film” to an all-inclusive and all-encompassing audience. In this respect, it differs from ‘Carol’ (2015), which might easily fit into the melodrama genre but for its conspicuous complexities, and in melodrama the crux is always the undercurrents in the narrative and how they are played out.
I personally love a good melodrama and ‘Brooklyn’ is just that. Right up there with ‘Now Voyager’ (1942), a delicious Bette Davis weepie which is in my all-time top 10. There are so many things that are excellent about ‘Brooklyn’. Written with economy by Irish novelist Colm Toibin before being nuanced and elaborated by Nick Hornby’s excellent screenwriting skills; it’s safe to say that ‘Brooklyn’ was off to a good start from right from the outset. Helmed by director John Crowley, who shows great sensitivity in his handling of the characters as he steers ‘Brooklyn’ through its passage. But at last Saoirse Ronan has a role where her acting skills can finally shine in the spotlight. She was outstanding in action thriller ‘Hanna” (a film which should have fared better but has been largely overlooked); unforgettable as the source of all ill in ‘Atonement’; haunting as Susie Salmon in ‘The Lovely Bones’ (2009). Now, Ronan has finally come of age; I’ll put money on her name being up there when the Oscar winner is read out.
‘Brooklyn’ tells the tale of Irish lass Eilis Lacey arriving in New York in the 1950s. Alone and naive, she works as a sales assistant in a department store and lives in lodgings with other working-class single Irish girls. She meets Italian-American Tony (Emory Cohen) and they embark on a first romance. But that’s way into the film and prior to that we witness Eilis’ difficult passage to New York in steerage on a long and uncomfortable journey across the Atlantic. Film critic Tim Robey of The Telegraph describes ‘Brooklyn’ as a “pulse quickening Irish immigrant song” and “painterly”. Very accurate adjectives, because the film is indeed a work of art that captures the period, the colours, the atmosphere and the incredible work ethic that possessed immigrants arriving during the 1950s.
Having settled in this new country and started a new life, Eilis receives terrible news and chooses to return to her homeland where she is torn between her sense of duty that would have her remain in Ireland (and a new relationship with Jim, played by Domhnall Gleeson) and her secret husband Tony, whom she wed in a quick civil ceremony before departing America. What will she do? Well you’ll have to see ‘Brooklyn’ to find out.
One of the best things about ‘Brooklyn’ is the editing, which is more than noteworthy. Jake Roberts (‘Starred Up’, The Riot Club’) admits that he wasn’t the obvious editing choice for the film, but he understood Crowley’s desire to make Eilis the main focus of the film. With a period piece of this scale and historic significance it could have been a cinematic extravaganza of vast landscapes and memorabilia, but that hasn’t happened in ‘Brooklyn’. Instead, there are tight shots of Eilis, her face and her immediate environment. Roberts, unlike everybody else working on the production side, didn’t read the novel, so when it came to the editing process he had no preconceived ideas about the storyline or the characters. Using what might be described as his sense of intuition, Roberts was left to his own devices and stitched ‘Brooklyn’ together with nominal intervention from Crowley and the rest of the team.
‘Brooklyn’ really does benefit from being a great original novel to start with, that has been carefully crafted into a beautifully articulated period drama. I believe there is something for everyone in this film.