First Hit: This film shares a wonderful heartfelt story with remarkable acting and stunning visuals representing the 1950’s.
Irish immigration to the US and specifically to Brooklyn during the 1950’s (the 3rd wave) is highlighted in this film.
The film does give homage to an earlier 2nd wave of Irish Immigration to the US by sharing information about how they built a lot of the infrastructure in eastern US cities. Knowing that by 1860 or so, one quarter of New York City’s population was Irish, when we join this story we are aware of Irish influence in the city.
This story begins with Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) living with her mom and sister in a small Irish town. She works as a clerk in Miss Kelly’s (Brid Brennan) small store. Where Eilis has a quiet caring heart Miss Kelly is mean and spiteful. This life is weighing Eilis down, so her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) sets her up with a Visa and a job in New York City.
Afraid and excited, she leaves on a ship only to land in a repressive boarding house run by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) and working as a clerk in a fancy department store. She is lonely and sad, misses her family, and is terribly homesick. All this changes when she meets a young Italian plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen). He is totally smitten by her and while she’s slowly warming up to the attention and affection, Tony blurts out his love for Eilis.
The scenes of them together are amazingly precious. The first meal at his family’s house is ripe for enjoyment. Then there are scenes at the Ms. Kehoe’s boarding house dinner table that are simply funny, witty and insightful to the plight of these young girls trying to find a life in New York City.
Then there are the heartfelt and decisive scenes back in Ireland when Eilis returns to pay her respects to her recently deceased sister. The heart pulling wish of her mother wanting her to stay and not go back to New York, along with her ability to see her old friends as well as being seen as someone who is beautiful and smart makes her wonder about staying.
Ronan is beyond wonderful. She gave the kind of performance that elevates her incredible resume. I loved her as a young curious and confused girl named Briony in “Atonement”. She sparkled physically and intensely as the assassin in “Hanna”. Here she gives a deeply moving and evolving portrait as a women coming into her own. This is a great actress. Cohen is so wonderfully charming in his role, you just cannot help but love him here. Walters is perfect as the strict matron of her boarding house, trying to keep her women on solid respectful footing. Glascott was perfect as the thoughtful sister. Brennan was on point as a sharp, pushy, and mean store owner. Jim Broadbent as Father Flood was flawlessly cast as Eilis’s rock during her first months in the US. Nick Hornby wrote a dazzling screen play capturing the feel of the time and the intent of Colm Toibin’s novel. John Crowley captured the innocence, despair, history, and feeling of the time perfectly.
Overall: Wonderful to watch, beautiful to feel.