A girl-meets-world scenario is at the core of this romantic drama.

A young woman, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan, “Atonement,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) moves from small town Enniscorthy Ireland to Brooklyn, New York where, unlike home, she has the opportunity for work and a secure a future. Eilis also discovers love.

When a family tragedy brings her back to Ireland, she finds herself absorbed into her old community, but now with eligible Jim (Domhnall Gleeson, “The Revenant,” “Star Wars: Episode VII”) courting her. As she repeatedly postpones her return to America, Eilis finds herself confronting a terrible dilemma a heart-breaking choice between two men and two countries.

Opportunities are scarce in rural Ireland, particularly for young women like Eilis Lacey. Large mass America is an open world, compared to her claustrophobic Irish homeland where all she has to look forward to are slick-haired and slack-jawed rugby players, woeful weather and a job at a grocery store. So when her sister Rose, with the help of former local priest now based in Brooklyn, Father Flood, arranges for her to emigrate to New York to seek a better life for herself Eilis knows she has no choice but to leave behind her mother, sister and home for the first time. Packing her meager belongings, Eilis sets off on a trip across the Atlantic.

Arriving in Brooklyn Eilis is at once shocked by its bright lights, brownstones and brash confidence compared to the tranquility of the life she left behind. At the boarding house run by an Irish landlady, Eilis encounters the lively and gossip-obsessed fellow boarders who help her adjust to life away from home, but still finds homesickness a terrible burden to bear. Enrolling in a book-keeping course, her classmates try to offset her homesick symptoms by taking her to Saturday night dances at the local church. There Eilis meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a young Italian-American plumber who is instantly smitten at the sight of her. They take their first tentative steps towards romance, as Eilis finds herself reciprocating Tony’s love for her.

Adjusting to her new life, Eilis receives the tragic news from Ireland of her sister Rose’s sudden death, leaving her mother bereft and alone. Wishing to return to Ireland immediately to comfort her mother, Tony begs her to marry him in secret before she leaves, which she agrees to do, and promises to be back very soon.

Back home in Enniscorthy, everyone is struck by Eilis’s new found American sophistication. She finds comfort from her grief in the company of her old friends, and from Jim, a young, charming Irishman. Eilis finds herself drawn to Jim’s companionship in her time of need. Jim begins to woo Eilis, encouraged by her mother. With old friend Nancy about to be married a few days after her proposed departure date, Eilis extends her stay in Ireland.

Another life, away from the one she’d already created for herself in Brooklyn, begins to form. Tony mails regular letters to Eilis telling her just how much he misses her. Eilis is conflicted between her love for Tony and the comfort of Jim’s presence, and soon begins to leave Tony’s letters unopened to alleviate her guilt. Matters come to a head when a former colleague tells Eilis that a relative from Ireland witnessed her marriage to Tony and that she knows her secret. Eilis realises at once; while she remains in Ireland she can never truly live her own life, free from the claustrophobia of small-town Enniscorthy.

Eilis is torn, between staying in Ireland for her mother, her friends and a burgeoning romance with Jim; or revealing the truth of her secret wedding and escaping, back to the new life she has forged for herself in America with Tony. She feels as though she were two people, one who had battled against two cold winters and many hard days in Brooklyn and fallen in love there, and the other who was her mother’s daughter, the Eilis whom everyone knew, or thought they knew. Whatever her decision, Eilis must take her future in her own hands and choose where her home, and her heart, truly lies.

Screenwriter Nick Hornby, who adapted Colm Toibin’s novel, explains, “At its heart there is a sort of timeless choice story between two different kinds of young men”. Producer Amanda Posey adds, “It’s not only the journey from Ireland to America but it’s the journey from just coming into womanhood to becoming the woman she wants to be. It’s about a young woman finding her voice and finding her ability to choose especially during a historical time when a lot of choices were restricted.”

Saoirse Ronan, nominated for a best actress Oscar, impressively charts the shift from wide-eyed provincial girl to city sophisticate as much by stance and speech-patterns as by costume and hairstyle. She gets stalwart backing from veterans Julie Walters (“Educating Rita,” “Billy Elliot”), visibly enjoying herself as her wasp-tongued Brooklyn landlady, and Jim Broadbent (“Iris,” “The Iron Lady”) as a benevolent priest.

The film’s period recreation conjures what now seems an impossibly remote age when distances were formidable and social conventions – especially for young women – terrifyingly restrictive. While the scenario perhaps suggests soap opera components, Hornby’s script lifts the aching melancholy tale to human awareness in capturing the spirit of a bittersweet life laced with understanding and wry humour.

“Brooklyn,” in limited release locally, is on the best picture Oscar list.

“GASLIGHT”

“Gaslight” (at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish theatre), is an engaging study in psychological disorder. It’s an old form “Victorian thriller,” filled with creepy atmospheric tension which works on its own terms when viewed from our digital age. A form of Spock mind-melding mental emotions, displace the ratings boosting violent action, firepower and technical armament permeating big and small screen thrillers. Here, theatre patrons are drawn into the macabre mind games.

The plot turns on a husband mentally torturing his wife. It has taken seven years of marriage but at curtain rise, Jack Manningham (Owen Teale, “Game of Thrones”), has practically persuaded his attractive wife Bella (Flora Montgomery, “Midsomer Murders,” Murdoch Mysteries”), that she has followed her mother into madness. This inflexible man plays constant cruel tricks on his hyperactive wife. Montgomery is in top form veering from overwrought anguish to meek desperation as a dutiful spouse trying to fathom the motif underlining the curious circumstances that plague her. I perhaps share various viewers’ reasoning that it would be a strong stroke to call Manningham’s bluff. But then this is the 1880s, not a women’s realm.

Events expand, as a mystery visitor calls on Mrs. Manningham taking advantage of Manningham’s regular night-time absences which suggest assignations with his female “friends”. In an extended sequence, Inspector Rough (Ian McElhinney, “Game of Thrones”), relates details of a long-ago murder and missing gems, inevitably leading to the conclusion that Bella’s husband is possibly implicated. There is more than a hint of irony in the performances, eventually leading to a satisfying conclusion. I liked McElhinney’s interpretation of Routh, infusing the gloomy details of past suspicions with a jaunty demeanor, as if to assuage Bella’s fears.

Teale plays the villainous husband with stoic irony, British stiff upper lip efficiency, studied manipulation, and harsh exasperation.

“Gaslight,” a melodrama wrapped around a psychological war of mental one-upmanship…..a thriller plays through February 28, at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre.

Written by: Alex Reynolds

Providing a fresh perspective for Hamilton and Burlington

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