“Brooklyn” tells the immigrant story from a new perspective.
It’s a familiar tale: Young Irishmen leaving home to labor in faraway lands — the United States, Canada, Australia and, after a boat ride across the Irish Sea, England.
“Brooklyn,” on the other hand, is the story of a young woman.
In the early 1950s, the not-far-from-girlhood Eilis Lacey leaves the small Irish town where she’s spent her whole life. Following Irish tradition, she boards a boat that will take her thousands of miles from home. It’s a wrenching farewell for Eilis and, down on the dock, her sister, Rose. Her destination is Brooklyn, New York City, America.
In the widely, enthusiastically acclaimed “Brooklyn,” which opens in New Orleans and Baton Rouge this week, Saoirse Ronan — the Irish actress whose work in the 2007 British drama, “Atonement,” earned an Oscar nomination when she was 13 — plays an Irish character for the first time.
“It is an amazing performance,” the film’s also Irish director, John Crowley (“Boy A,” “True Detective”), said recently. “It’s a case of the right actor at the right time. She had just come of age as we were beginning to put this together.”
In addition to “Atonement,” Ronan appeared in 2009’s Peter Jackson-directed drama “The Lovely Bones” and last year’s Oscar-winning Wes Anderson comedy, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
“There was no question that she was an astonishing child actress,” Crowley said. “But she was looking for the right role to take her from that category and show that she’s a proper adult actress with serious talent.”
“Brooklyn” was shot in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, where Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel, “Brooklyn,” begins. Cast and crew also filmed interiors in Montreal and exteriors in New York City.
Rehearsal for the film began a week before filming. The movie’s young leading lady was very prepared, Crowley said. “The rehearsal was to properly, emotionally get her head around the scale of being in every scene, pretty much,” he said.
But Crowley and the cast only went so far during rehearsals.
“We were specific about what each scene was, but we never actually cracked open the emotion,” he said. “That’s a bit of the process. You wait for the camera to complete it for you. None of the tears that you see in the film were in the rehearsal room.”
During the course of a just few hours of filming, Ronan showed her agile range and flexibility.
“She would do light, comic, romantic scenes and then do a heartbreaking scene two hours later, in the same day,” Crowley said. “And that was her life for eight weeks of shooting. It was really intense. But she’s ambitious for the work. She really wants to get it right.”
Crowley, like readers throughout the world, fell in love with “Brooklyn” in its original novel form. Oscar-nominee Nick Hornby (“Wild,” “An Education”) adapted Tóibín’s novel for the screen.
“What Colm does that’s so fresh in the novel, and what we try to capture in the film, is to tell the story at first from the point of view of an unremarkable, unformed young girl,” Crowley said. “And as events shape Eilis, she becomes more and more herself. She emerges as this beautiful, intuitively good young woman.”
As for the awards buzz around “Brooklyn,” which has a 99 percent positive rating at movie review aggregate site rottentomatoes.com, Crowley avoids it.
“People get it very badly wrong,” he said. “I put my hands over my ears. I am very happy that we landed into that sort of category in people’s minds, but the big thing is it’s cheering and pleasing that people like the film. That’s very special, indeed. Whatever else comes is gravy.”