Brooklyn is a charmer.
Based on Coln Toibin's evocative novel, it tells the story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a bright, unawakened Irish girl from rural Enniscorthy who leaves her widowed mother (Jane Brennan) and selfless sister (Fiona Glascott) for a new life in America.
The Catholic Church has arranged her visa, passage and accommodation on arrival in Brooklyn, and for once – and refreshingly – her priest mentor Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) is portrayed as beacon of conscientious pastoral care.
The arduous sea voyage in steerage, the tension of Ellis Island immigration, the rush of homesickness and the bewildering colour and pace of New York is vividly evoked. Yet from her entry into the formidable Mrs Kehoe's (Julie Walters) boarding house for single Catholic girls, Eilis begins to flourish.
As director John Crowley's visual palate begins to warm, and city life fills up with work in busy department store during the day and evening classes in book keeping at night, Eilis finds a new independence. Meeting with Tony Fiorello, an Italian-American plumbing apprentice (Emory Cohen) promises much – yet news from Enniscorthy is devastating: her beloved sister Rose is dead. Eilis chooses to return to support her ageing mother.
Then the real pain begins. Caught between the blandishments and demands of two worlds, Eilis' welcome into her birth community, assimilation into well paid work, and meeting with Jim, a prosperous, thoughtful local boy (Domhnall Gleeson) divides her loyalties and with pin sharp cruelty, skewers her to a choice.
Nick Hornby's spare, sensitive screenplay is almost faultlessly carried by Fiona Weir's outstanding casting. Saoirse Ronan's range and fluency is astonishing, and her admirers' merits, and the chemistry generated is magical. Julie Walters' beady fizz is irresistible, and the two locations – so different in their promise – are equally lovingly evoked, making Eilis' choice the harder.
In many beautiful moments in the film, the unaccompanied voice of Iarla O Lionaird's singing the traditional love song Casadh an tSugain at a Christmas lunch for destitute Irish workmen who have helped to build the city, is spellbinding.