Half-wishing things could have been different

This is my review of Brooklyn [DVD] [2015].

When Eilis is unable to obtain suitable full-time employment in the tight-knit, isolated Irish town of Enniscorthy, her elder sister Rose pulls strings with fixer, Irish American priest Father Flood to get her a visa and job in New York, with accommodation in a Brooklyn boarding house. Like millions of other Irish immigrants, she begins to make a life for herself after the initial appalling homesickness, but is likely to be cast into a kind of limbo, in which, when in Brooklyn, her past in Ireland seems unreal and dreamlike, and vice versa.

At first I was reluctant to see the film version of “Brooklyn” since I thought it was unlikely to capture the book’s main achievement which is to convey the shifting inner thoughts and emotions of the heroine Eilis. Yet author Colm Toibin seems happy with the film , and actress Saiorse Ronan is skilful in showing a bright yet unassuming girl who is a mix of naïve and shrewd, sensitive yet resilient, dutiful in her Catholic faith but spirited.

The film gives a vivid and convincing portrayal of life in conservative small town Ireland of the early 1950s, as opposed to the bustle of a New York street in the rush hour or Coney Island on a summer weekend.

Scriptwriter Nick Hornby keeps fairly faithfully to the original plot and dialogue, including the final ironic twist, and I can understand why a few scenes have been added, for instance at the end, to suit the visual medium of film. Yet, I felt that some minor scenes have been omitted unnecessarily, creating an overly abrupt plot development in the process. To give a a spoiler-free example, the film would have gained from more leisurely initial “scene-setting” to portray Rose as more striking and successful in her social and work life than she seems in the film, while we could have seen more of Eilis reluctantly accepting a part-time job with the ghastly Miss Kelly, reporting her days in humorous anecdotes over the tea table in an attempt to make them more bearable. Also, her initial humiliating encounter with “eligible young Irish bachelor” Jim Farrell before she leaves for Brooklyn is inexplicably left out altogether. Perhaps more could have been made of the stifling web of Enniscorthy gossip stretching its threads even into Mrs Kehoe’s Brooklyn boarding house.

Overall, the film is likely to please those who have never read the book, and have the power to move those who have, despite any reservations.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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