****1/2 (out of five)
Romantic, moving, embracing and thoroughly old-fashioned, Brooklyn is a gorgeous film centred by a major performance by Saoirse Ronan, who is making no mistakes in fulfilling the promise she showed when she received her first Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, for Atonement, in 2007, when she was thirteen years old.
Now she’s nominated for Best Actress for Brooklyn, and, were Brie Larson not the favourite for Room, it would have to be Ronan’s to lose. She carries this terrific picture, appearing in almost every scene, and at times director John Crowley simply frames her face in full close-up, in silent contemplation, and lets her eyes – and, thus, her inner life – let you know everything you need.
Ronan plays Eilis (pronounced Aylish), a young woman for whom there seem to be no job prospects in her native Ireland. A priest in America sponsors her to travel there, and she takes a passage to Brooklyn, where she learns to overcome homesickness, learn a profession, and open up her heart to a young man (an amazing turn by Emory Cohen).
There are other performers in the film – Julie Walters is wonderful, just wonderful, as the head of a small boarding house for young women in which Eilis lives, and so-hot-right-not Domhnall Gleeson gives a subtle and dignified performance – but I cannot over-emphasize the degree to which Ronan bears the weight of this fine movie and is primarily responsible for its success. Just as Crowley, in every way, unashamedly uses the romantic filmmaking language of the fifties, so too does his movie embrace its own nature as an old-school “star vehicle”. It lives or dies on Ronan’s performance, and it definitely lives, with energy and beauty and grace. Nick Hornby has done a brilliant job of adapting Colm Tóibín’s novel, and all the art departments have done a sterling job in actualising an Ireland and Brooklyn of the 1950s but also of the romantic mind. A stunner.