The epic saga of immigration is brought to human scale in Brooklyn, a critically acclaimed film based on the novel by Irish writer Colm Tóibín, with a screenplay by Nick Hornby.
Released in 2015 and available on DVD at the Whitehorse Public Library, Brooklyn follows a young woman who finds herself part of the Irish diaspora, headed across the ocean to New York City.
Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Roanan) is stirred to leave her small town in the early 1950s not due to extraordinary events, but mostly because she could do better elsewhere. A part-time job in a store can’t sustain her, and social life in the small town of Enniscorthy in southeast Ireland is narrow. North America beckons to the old world with the promise of abundant opportunities.
In truth, though, it’s more due to the efforts of her sister Rose that Eilis is propelled into the new world. With the sponsorship of Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) smoothing the way, Eilis makes a soft landing in America; a job has been arranged for her at the gleaming counters of a department store, and so has a room in a boarding house shared with other young Irish women. The exacting landlady, Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters) rules the roost there, doling out advice and sharp rebukes at the dinner table in a comic stream-of-consciousness.
When her homesickness threatens to overwhelm Eilis, Father Flood has another card up his sleeve, enrolling her in college night classes. The reluctant transplant might be lonely, but her future looks bright. Once she meets Tony, an Italian-American, Eilis really starts to come out of her shell, becoming more confident and forthright than the shy girl she was back in Ireland.
No longer overwhelmed by the unfamiliar, she’s beginning to understand the words of a seasoned expatriate: “Sometimes it’s nice to meet people who don’t know your auntie.”
But a family event calls her back to Enniscorthy for a visit and once there, the rituals of weddings and funerals and the company of friends and family absorb Eilis back into the fold.
Wouldn’t you know it, suddenly Eilis is besieged with the opportunities that eluded her before. She’s offered a job in an office and she’s courted by Jim (Domhnall Gleason),who is the kind of eligible man that her family wanted for her.
What about Tony? What about that future Eilis and he could imagine in the wilds of Long Island? Eilis’ placid face doesn’t reveal any of the conflict you’d expect. In the audio commentary, director John Crowley compares her reaction to Dorothy falling asleep in the poppy field just before she reaches the city of Oz. It’s not just a romantic triangle that Eilis is faced with; it’s about making a momentous choice between two lives for herself.
Like the outwardly calm Eilis, Brooklyn has a strong emotional current tugging beneath the surface. Anyone who ever landed far from where they began, or anyone born into a family that came from away, will empathize with what Eilis learns about venturing into new territory.