This timely film concerning an immigrant who travels alone to the United States from her home in Ireland during the early 1950s relates an experience which was positive in contrast to the difficulties suffered today by people seeking refuge in a welcoming country. “Give me your tired, your poor” is an old cliché which we seldom hear spoken anymore.
Statue of Liberty - Wikimedia
Being of Irish heritage myself, I knew I would be able to relate to this story. My four grandparents, none of which I knew, emigrated to this country in the late 1800s, and were able to see their children thrive in a welcoming environment through education and careers not open to them in the old country.
“Brooklyn” is the movie version of a novel written by Colm Toibin and published in 2009. It was filmed in County Wexford, Ireland and in Montreal, Canada with some episodes shot in the United Kingdom and in the United States.
This beautiful story is enhanced greatly by the talent of Saoirse (pronounced seer-sha) Ronan who portrays the protagonist Ellis (pronounced ay-leesh) Lacey who leaves her fatherland to find happiness in the New World. In her hometown, Enniscorthy, Ireland, there is little, if any, opportunity for an 18-year-old girl to find a well-paying job or, for that matter, a young swain who holds a well-paying job. Ellis’ sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), an accountant living at home with Ellis and their mother, has encouraged her younger sister to travel to the United States where opportunities abound for an intelligent, attractive, and ambitious girl like Ellis.
It was a difficult decision to leave her widowed mother, but Ellis understood Rose’s desire to encourage a better life for her sister than she, Rose, had endured in the small, suffocating town in which they live.
Saoirse Ronan - Wikimedia
Seasickness and Homesickness
The voyage by sea took several weeks, and Ellis suffered motion sickness on the boat along with anxiety and uncertainty about her decision to leave home. Fortunately, a fellow passenger took Ellis under her wing, and helped to allay her fears and to instruct her in how to behave when they reached the American shore.
Mrs. Kehoe’s Boarding House
Her arrival went smoothly because a priest in Brooklyn, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) had sponsored her citizenship and was on hand to help her find housing and a job. Brooklyn was home to many Irish immigrants like herself, which added to her comfort in settling there. Mrs. Kehoe’s boarding house was the perfect spot for her, as it was a safe haven to several girls her age and older who were able to work in jobs which earned them a nice living. Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) looked on the girls has her own daughters and did not hesitate to correct them if they said or did anything out of line. Mealtimes at Mrs. Kehoe’s were some of the more humorous episodes in the film. The off-hours of the girls were taken up with movies, the weekly parish dance at Father Flood’s church, and helping each other with clothes styles, makeup, and advice. Ellis wrote home often and tried to hide her homesickness from her family.
Julie Walters - Wikimedia
Ellis Gets a Job
Ellis was able to obtain a job as a sales girl in a high-end Department Store called Bartocci’s where she used the “electronic device” of placing the customer’s money into a metal tube, which carried it swiftly to the office where the customer’s change and receipt would be sent back through the same tube within minutes. Only those who lived in the 1950s and before will recall this procedure.
Father Flood took note that Ellis was a bright, able girl and enrolled her in a part-time bookkeeping class at Brooklyn College. Ellis took to it easily; her sister Rose was an accountant and enjoyed the work very much. Father Flood paid her first semester tuition which was often done by the church back in the day when poorer families had no means to provide their children with an education.
Jim Broadbent - Wikimedia
Ellis Meets Tony
The girls at Mrs. Kehoe’s encouraged Ellis to come to the weekly parish dance to meet some of the Irish boys from the neighborhood. It reminded me of our parish dances where it was our only opportunity to meet boys, especially if you went to an all-girls Catholic high school. Ellis did meet a boy there, although he was not Irish, he was Italian. His name was Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) and he worked as a plumber in town.
Tony was so taken with Ellis because he liked Irish girls. He asked to escort her home and she accepted. They started to see each other on a regular basis, and Ellis began to feel comfortable in America, and not so homesick.
It is difficult to describe Saoirse Ronan’s beauty. Initially, on first getting off the boat, she did not seem beautiful, but as her assimilation into American ways progressed, Ellis took on an indescribable beauty. Saoirse’s skin is flawless, and her blue eyes reflect her feelings so that the viewer instantly knows her present state. Her talent is so understated in this role, which also contributes to her charm.
An interesting episode occurred when Tony walked her home one evening and told Ellis that he loved her. She did not respond, but the next time they were together, she apologized for not answering him, and said that if he ever told her again that he loved her, she would tell him that she loved him also.
Sad News From Ireland
As in all real-life drama, sadness had to enter the story. Ellis received word from Father Flood that her sister Rose had died unexpectedly, and their mother was now alone in the world. Ellis had to go home for the funeral and to console her mother. Tony begged her to marry him before she left for Ireland, and she agreed. They went to City Hall for a civil marriage without telling anyone what they had done.
Domhnall Gleeson - Wikimedia
Friends and Family Conspire to Keep Ellis Home
In Ireland, Ellis learned that her best friend Nancy was getting married in a week’s time, and her mother talked her into staying on for the wedding. Nancy introduced her to a bachelor in town, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) and the two couples went to Coney Island for the day. It was the talk of the town that Ellis and Jim were seeing each other, particularly because he had recently come into some property from his family and was looking for a wife to settle down with. Also, Rose’s old boss asked her to fill in for a while as his bookkeeper and Rose was happy to do it. It seemed that everything had come together for her in Ireland which was not present when she left, and the temptation to stay and make a life for herself back home was strong indeed.
No spoiler here. This was a charming story, and the rumor is that Saoirse Roman may be nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Ellis Lacey. She deserves to win and I will wait patiently for Oscar night, as I believe she has nailed it.
Amazon Price: $7.24 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 2, 2015)