A while back, I saw the trailer for Brooklyn at the cinema. Immediately, I thought “Yes! I’ll go see that”, and wrote it on my extensive list of films to watch. Then one day as I was looking into Waterstone’s, I saw the book lying on a table, and bought it. I read it in 2 days (it’s not that big) and then told my flatmate to read it. As much as I had recognised myself in it, and loved Eilis’s story, she did not. My mother, whom I gave the book to when I visited two weeks ago, read it just as quickly as I did and loved it. The only issue, and I had the same one, was the rather open/quick ending.
I saw the movie on Monday, and thankfully, the ending has been tweaked in a satisfactory manner. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re in a small Irish town in 1951 and Eilis, pronounced A-lish, in case you’re not fluent in Irish (Saoirse Ronan), is living at home with her mother and older sister, Rose. Even though both sisters have a certificate in bookkeeping, only Rose has a steady job and supports the household.
Eilis is stuck at Mrs Kelly’s shop, working Sundays for a pittance with a woman she doesn’t like. So when Rose manages to organise a working Visa for Eilis in the USA, it’s the chance of a lifetime for a girl desperate to make something of herself. Even though she is wary of leaving her friends and family, Eilis packs her bag and sets out for the promised land.
After a rough crossing, and with the help of her cabin mate, Eilis finally lands in Ellis Island and sets up in Brooklyn. Staying in a boarding house with Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters) and other girls away from home, she starts working at a local department store, Bartocci’s, a job organised by the local Irish priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). At first homesick and afraid, Eilis has difficulty finding her place in this new world.
In hope of helping her, Father Flood organises for Eilis to take evening classes in American bookkeeping so she can get a certificate, as well as inviting her along to Church events. It’s at one of the dances that Eilis meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian-American plumber who snuck his way in. Happy to have made a friend, she lets Tony take her out to dances, the cinema, or pick her up from class.
But just as things start looking up for Eilis, tragedy strikes at home and she needs to go back. Back home, things have changed and she finds herself pulled back into this familiar world. Will she choose to stay and live the life she though she would, or will she go back and take a new, unfamiliar yet exciting path?
One thing I really appreciated in the adaptation was the real effort to get as many Irish actors as possible (Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Fiona Glascott, Eileen O’Higgins etc.) and to choose people who could at least get away with an impeccable accent for the other parts (Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Emory Cohen).
The movie is quite close to the book, and only leaves out things that the movie didn’t need. Everything, from the behaviour of the characters to the locations is as realistic as it could be. As opposed to modern stories where the characters seem to have an unlimited supply of clothes, here you see every outfit at least twice if not more. Eilis arrives in America with one big suitcase (that’s what I take for 2 weeks at home) and you only see her with one or two new outfits.
As I said before, I recognised myself in Eilis. True, I didn’t have to go so far away from home, and the possibilities to stay in touch nowadays are endless, but I too left home for a place where I had a better chance than at home. Even though France and England are only separated by a few kilometres of sea, the cultures are so different that it sometimes makes you wonder what on Earth is in that short stretch of water!
My flatmate, and indeed the friend I went to the cinema with, both commented that the plot seemed a bit slow, uneventful really. Yet I feel that this is much more realistic than what happens in ordinary romantic comedies for example, where everything is shiny and amazing and so intense. My life, I often think, is much more like that of Eilis: a slow progression of moments, interspersed with outstanding events that lead to new opportunities, but as a whole you’re just advancing one step at a time and there’s little glamour and sparkle in it.
If you loved the book, then you must see the movie. If you like the 50s, then you must see the movie. If you like Irish accents, then you must see the movie. (Actually I see little reason for you NOT to see the movie ;))
Pictures from: flickeringmyth.com, katrinaolson.ca, indiewire.com, guim.co.uk, fashionista.com, wordpress.com, daystune.com