Now usually period dramas are not my go to film, not even remotely, but this looked like a film with a tenderness and character based interest. Perhaps coming back from New York itself helped that interest factor along slightly but upon viewing this film I can say I liked it, it’s rich and acted really well throughout.
Irish shop worker Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is funded a move to New York from the church. She says goodbye to her sister and their ill mother and finds herself getting accustomed to Brooklyn life, weather and boys as she falls in love with Italian charmer Tony (Emory Cohen). After a tragedy strikes back in Ireland, Eilis comes back and then has to face the tough choice of a new romance at home or shipping back to America for the life she’s come to know.
The look of this historical drama set in the 1950’s is quality. The costuming is marvellous with each character fitting into the time and truly selling the period of this piece. I know all period films do this but something about the change from the Emerald Isle to our cousins across the Pond felt amazingly authentic. As we wash over to the shores of the US, Brooklyn’s setting feels magical in a way; the lush greens and busier atmosphere making the 50’s feel like their livelier selves and giving us reason to why at first Eilis is overwhelmed, but then agreeable to this change of pace and lifestyle.
Nick Hornby’s screenplay is layered with emotion. Adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel the family angle is soaring from the lead’s predicament alone, then there’s the family-esque set up in the boarding house to Tony’s Italian American family home. That strong sense of togetherness and theme of home where the heart is stays ever present becoming the shaky decision for Eilis to land on. Of course, there’s romance here and normally that’s what makes me stray away from these movies but it’s well done here, enough to make look past some of the soppier obvious writing moments. Tony is a likable and smooth character with a fun and engaging family. Jim from Ireland may have little screen time to win the central character over, but he too is nice and genuine which gives us reason to why she finds it hard making that ol’ love triangle routine less cliched.
The main feeling I got was of a bittersweet one, which mixed with memories and new chapters gives this film a satisfying tinge. It honestly is a film that feels like life, as we make decisions, something else could happen that may have been affected by that. It also pulls deep at the heart, maybe more people will weep at more points but even I had to suffer a choking throat and wet eyes as Eilis hears of the tragic news thousands of miles away. The only problem the film had was becoming duller as it got nearer the end, a blackmailing revelation is squashed before getting in any way dramatic and the romantic choice is obvious from the halfway point, meaning the closing minutes of the movie were expected and less impacting, sort of tainting the beautiful moments that had been seen up until that point.
Saoirse Ronan is absolutely splendid, delightful and subtle in this dramatic narrative. She must be in regards for the awards season coming sooner than we always expect. I don’t know if it’s golden statue material but her understated emotion from top to bottom is utterly convincing and she’s a pure pleasure to watch. Julie Walters is merely a name and cameo but acts her socks off as the light material to balance the more heart tearing moments. Emory Cohen gets a bigger break than in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ and proves to be an assured leading man as he cozies up to Ronan and bewitches us with the gentleman routine. Domhnall Gleeson doesn’t have much to do but it shows what a capable actor he is that with such little run time he can show just why his character is so big of a obstacle option for Eilis to come to terms with. It’s a fantastically performed treat from everyone, that Irish and American mash of cultures giving it enhanced delight.
The weaker end aside, this film triumphs for the acting and beauty of life story. It’s something that comes across like a deeply resonating movie for so many people, that inescapable pull of home and family being something personal and different to us all. It’s dealt with by director John Crowley and Nick Hornby in such nostalgic vision.