When young Eilis Lacey moves from Ireland to Brooklyn in 1952, she is overwhelmed by homesickness. A masterful adaptation of Colm Tóibín's 2009 novel.


Sometimes you have to leave home to find out who you really are. Eilis Lacey is an ordinary young woman working in a grocery shop in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, in 1952. With little opportunity to improve herself in Ireland, Eilis accepts the offer of a new life in Brooklyn, arranged for her by Father Flood. After a less than auspicious voyage to New York, Eilis arrives at the boarding house of the stern and religious Mrs Kehoe and homesickness immediately engulfs her. Although half of Ireland would appear to be living in Brooklyn, Eilis nevertheless feels stranded and isolated and a million miles from her comfort zone. Yet homesickness, Father Flood tells her, is like a virus, a contagion that eventually moves on to somebody else…


Colm Tóibín's 2009 novel is a sparse, fragile thing, like a small fruit freshly picked. It was quite hard to see it as a film. Yet the Irish director John Crowley has handled Tóibín's story with extreme delicacy, careful not to bruise it, but drawing out its emotional juice with a patient skill. The initial scenes are almost workmanlike, with precious little cinematic flourish or the need to spotlight the period detail (unlike Todd Haynes’ Carol, also set in 1950s’ New York). The film certainly feels entrenched in its time, but not at the expense of its human reality.




Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen


As Eilis, the protean young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan has never looked more ordinary, but her plainness provides a pliant canvas for the other characters to bounce off. Indeed, her malleable looks are a gift to the performer, allowing her to run the physical gamut from believably commonplace to even striking (a facial flexibility she shares with Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett). Hers is a largely reactive role, enabling the other actors to hone a sharper impression: Julie Walters as a not un-comic Mrs Kehoe, Brid Brennan as the rigidly draconian Miss Kelly (the shopkeeper who criticises her own customers) and Eva Birthistle as Georgina, Eilis’s feisty cabin mate. Yet there is no barnstorming performance to detract from the subtle emotional tension at the story’s heart. Crowley has fine-tuned his adaptation – from Nick Hornby’s masterful script – like a classical musical instrument, building his vibrato to a conclusion that is almost unbearably touching.




Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Brid Brennan, Eva Birthistle, Fiona Glascott, Nora-Jane Noone, Jenn Murray.


Dir John Crowley, Pro Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Screenplay Nick Hornby, Ph Yves Bélanger, Pro Des François Séguin, Ed Jake Roberts, Music Michael Brook, Costumes Odile Dicks-Mireaux.


Irish Film Board/Item 7/BBC Films/Wildgaze-Lionsgate.

111 mins. Ireland/UK/Canada. 2015. Rel: 6 November 2015. Cert. 12A.