Saorsie Ronan gives the most remarkable performance of her young career in Brooklyn ****.
For those of us who have followed her since her debut in Joe Wright’s Atonement, this is like watching someone grow up right before your eyes, like one of those time-lapse photos of a flower blooming.
John Crowley’s adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel (aided beautifully by Nick Hornby’s elegant screenplay) is, indeed, about time. The story of a young Irish woman, Eilis, who bravely leaves her comfortable yet claustrophobic rural market town to seek a richer life in America in the 1950s, the film marks out great gaps, of water, of time, of longing.
Making the crossing by sea, Eilis doesn’t have jet lag but it takes her months to get over the voyage, the home sickness hanging over her. The early scenes are particularly well drawn, the boarding house dinners where Eilis is presided over by Julie Walters’ surrogate matriarch Madge Kehoe.
The immigrant/emigrant experience has been done many times before, but it feels timely in Brooklyn, given the topic’s prominence on the front pages and news. Of course Eilis is not fleeing war or conflict, but that somehow focuses us on the human, heartfelt aspects of the upheaval and makes it more universal than anything political. In any case, it’s clear that, as personal as it may be, Eilis’ choice is also a political one that will govern her own future as a woman.
Ronan has a Modigliani quality, that long neck reedy yet flexible enough to hold the head high through the storm. It’s interesting that Eilis takes a position in a smart department store – one of this year’s other leading movies is Carol, about Rooney Mara’s coming of age while working in a New York department store. Must be something in the perfume.
What Saorsie seems gifted at is making what’s going on in her heart so readable on her face. Brooklyn’s pull is all about the heart and Eilis’ is cleft in two. It’s a film about love and home.
For many, it might be a slow burn. There’s an old-fashioned unhurriedness to the picture, but it builds patiently. It takes its time. That doesn’t mean to say it feels long – it is just very good at spaces and clocks and distance, elements which are taking their toll on Eilis herself. In the end it’s about a decision that will leave the audience dangling with tension, so wrapped up have we become, like one of Eilis neatly folded boxes in the department store.
Crowley deserved praise for his patience, for his gradations of growth, for the way the colours bleed into the picture, a palette that starts with the faintest smudge of lipstick and builds to a bold, green swimsuit.
Brooklyn is the film to watch closely throughout awards season. People will fall in love with it and with Ronan, just as imperceptibly and surprisingly as Eilis falls in love and learns to love herself.
You can hear me talking to director John Crowley about Brooklyn here.