by director John Crowley
Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn, which the film is based on, is one of the most profoundly moving pieces of writing I've ever had the pleasure of reading. In many ways the story it tells is a small one. A young girl leaves home for a new life abroad, has to return home because of a family emergency and is then forced to choose where she will live and with whom. But size should never be mistaken for scale and this is a story of enormous scale. Eilis' choice between two men and two countries is a more heightened version of what many of us got through before we ultimately find that the only life we can lead is our own. Like any real choice it is accompanied by all the 'what ifs' of the road not travelled. It is as if two very distinct versions of her life walk side by side—both true possibilities of who she could be—but only one can be lived authentically by her.
Nick Hornby's wonderful script held on to the quiet potency of the book. There are no melodramatic tricks or shock tactics or villains injected into the film. Instead, in Saoirse Ronan’s mesmerising performance, we take you for a walk around the complications of the heart as it tries to negotiate the pull of home, family, love, and the need to be true to oneself at the deepest level. The aim was to hit an unashamedly emotional tone—never sentimental. But equally never detached or ironic or hip! In order to bring the viewer with us they had to see and feel everything with Eilis. There's also a lot of sly humour surrounding Eilis which throws her emotional highs and lows into even stronger relief.
The journey of any much loved book to the screen is always a daunting one. But the one thing that always seemed to steady and embolden the whole enterprise for me was the wish to get the story absolutely right for the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of nameless, faceless young men and women who had made similar journeys and not just from Ireland. Their search for a better life was often undertaken alone and accompanied by little more than a suitcase and a lifetime's worth of quiet sadness.