By John Campbell
As a descendant of the Irish diaspora, it was too easy for me to approach this with a sense of ‘here we go again, the Micks crying into their Guinness’. How surprised I was to be overwhelmed by the way in which it confirms a profound emotional truth while managing to avert soppy, worn out cliché (notwithstanding the Christmas lunch at which a group of homeless old Micks DO cry into their Guinness). Needing to flee her stultifying existence in post-WWII Ireland, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) jumps at the opportunity to sail to New York where a job has been arranged for her as a sales assistant in a department store. One of the movie’s great strengths lies in director John Crowley’s decision to not make of Eilis a latter-day feminist transported back to an earlier era. She is a young woman of her time and her upbringing – aware of her filial duties, devoted to the Catholic Church and, like the other Irish girls lodging at her boarding house, wanting to find a fella. These early stages, as the friendless, homesick immigrant struggles to find her feet in the New World, show an insightful understanding of social history that has become rare in today’s cinema of noisy bluster. Eilis enrols in an accountancy class and is courted by an Italian plumber (Emory Cohen), moving the film into chick-flick romance territory, but even then Crowley is to be applauded for insisting that his characters’ worth shines in their ordinariness. A spanner is hurled into the works when she is called back to Ireland following a death in the family. During an extended stay, she meets Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), a handsome, kind and eminently eligible bachelor (their waltz at a wedding reception is sublime). The story’s compelling mystery evolves at this point – will Eilis return to Tony and the uncertainties of life in Brooklyn, or will she embrace the call of her homeland? Ronan’s patient, captivating performance puts the gloss on a movie of rich and unashamed sentiment.