A beguiling screen presence as a teenager in such films as Atonement, Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel, Saoirse Ronan comes of age as an actress with her richly nuanced and deeply affecting portrayal of a young Irishwoman torn between countries and suitors in this romantic 1950s-set drama based on Colm Tóibín’s bestselling novel Brooklyn.
Unable to find work in post-war, small-town Ireland, Ronan’s bright but reserved Eilis reluctantly says farewell to her mother and elder sister and immigrates to New York, following in the footsteps of so many of her fellow countrymen and women.
She fetches up in a Brooklyn boarding house for women run by the strict but kind Mrs Keough (a deliciously comic role for Julie Walters), finds work behind the counter of a department store thanks to local priest Father Flood (a sympathetic Jim Broadbent) and is enthusiastically wooed by Italian-American plumber Tony (Emory Cohen, excellent). Slowly but surely, she sheds her homesickness and her shyness.
A potential future for her in America is beginning to take shape when circumstances take her back for a visit to Ireland, where the prospect of a job and the attentions of highly eligible suitor Jim (Domnhall Gleeson) offer her the possibility of another life life and present her with a heart-wrenching choice.
Skilfully adapted by screenwriter Nick Hornby, sensitively directed by John Crowley and superbly acted, Brooklyn is a compelling study of exile, loneliness and belonging that slowly develops into a moving love story as well.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 112 mins. Director John Crowley.