Lynn Larkin is on the red carpet at the Savoy Cinema in Dublin for Film Ireland and #FilmMe for the Irish premiere of Brooklyn.
Lynn chats to actor Saoirse Ronan (Eilis), director John Crowley, actor Jenn Murray (Dolores), actor Jane Brennan (Mary Lacey), screenwriter Nick Hornby, novelist Colm Tóibín, and producer Finola Dwyer.
Along the way Lynn partakes in a bit of Bono-spotting.
DIR: John Crowley • WRI: Nick Hornby • PRO: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey • ED: Mick Mahon • DOP: Yves Bélanger • ED: Jake Roberts • MUS: Michael Brook • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Zegen
Home is where the heart is for Enniscorthy girl Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) but when she leaves Wexford to nurture a new life in New York her heart is split in two when a burgeoning romance and family ties clash in director John Crowley’s period drama Brooklyn, based on Colm Tóibin’s novel of the same name.
In 1950s Ireland, Ellis is sent across the big blue at the behest of her mother and older sister Rose to accept work proffered by family friend and Catholic priest Fr. Flood who also promises to set her up during her stay. Ellis is a mousy young woman who cuts a meagre figure on the Brooklyn bound ferry, a fish out of water floundering above and below deck with constant anxiety and seasickness. It’s not long before her travel savvy cabin mate takes pity and instructs her in everything from how to effectively negotiate shared toilet privileges on the boat to how she should present herself in the big city. When she applies lipstick to Ellis’s lithe lips we glimpse the woman she may well become after the life-changing year ahead of her.
On dry land Ellis practises, as advised, to think like an American, to walk with a purpose and to look like she knows where she’s going. Despite her obvious diffidence she pulls off the façade despite not knowing where she is going or what Brooklyn has in store for her.
Ronan inhabits the role of the naïve Ellis with aplomb and seemingly grows in stature as the narrative unfolds, like a flower opening towards the sun scene by scene. The New York of the 1950s is a little too polished in places but the detail certainly lends to the proceedings. What sticks out like a sore thumb, however, are the expressionistic flourishes that belie the understated style of the film’s source material. For example the moment Ellis crosses the threshold into the unknown is personified as a doorway awash with blinding white light that leads from the passport office to her new homestead, the entrance of which is accentuated in gratuitous slow motion. These moments, thankfully few and far between, are distracting and superfluous in an otherwise faultless set-up.
When she’s not struggling to make small talk with the fast-talking, fast-living Americans at her work in a high-end department store, Ellis passes her time slinking away from the meal time gossip fuelled by the boarding house matriarch Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters) and her yappy tenants. These comedic interludes are a welcome diversion from the main narrative seeking to highlight the sensibilities of the time with particular gusto from the players especially Cavan girl Dolores (Jenn Murray) whose skittish deer-in-the-headlights performance threatens to steal the show.
The show is a romantic one after all so before Ellis can buckle under the weight of her homesickness she meets the dark and daring Italian plumber Tony (Emory Cohen) on the lookout for Irish girls at the local ceili. The courtship that follows is suitably “aw” inducing and full of first-love festivity but once again the real delights are served around the dinner table when Ellis is introduced to Tony’s family only to be scrutinised by younger brother Frankie who’s intent upon saying the wrong thing with impeccable comic timing.
Just as everything appears to be going swimmingly (in a fetching green swimsuit no less) news from back home threatens to upset all hopes of a happy ever after. Ellis returns to Wexford the talk of the town all grown up and glamorous looking for an unfortunate visit but a new job prospect, familial duty and the advances of a convenient catch add up to what could become a permanent stay if her friends and family have their way. The tension of this quietly chaotic conundrum, were everyone seems to know Ellis’s next step before she does, elevates the conventional drama. She keeps Tony a secret and when local boy Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) enters the fray promising a comfortable life Ellis is forced to follow her heart to find her true home.
Brooklyn may capture the hearts and minds of its audience as its age-old story is lovingly crafted but its overt concern with glorifying the past in copious studio light and overwrought musical accompaniment downgrades the experience somewhat. Crowley guides us through the narrative with precision but it’s a performance-driven film and the ensemble cast, especially the chemistry between Ronan and Cohen, deserve any and all accolade.
DIR: John Crowley • WRI: Steven Knight •PRO: Tim Bevan, Chris Clark, Eric Fellner • DOP: Adriano Goldman • ED: Lucia Zucchetti • MUS: Joby Talbot • DES: Jim Clay • CAST: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent, Ciarán Hinds
Martin Rose (Bana) is an arrogant but brilliant defence barrister. When a terrorist attack hits London and the main suspect’s lawyer dies, Rose is called in to replace him. The prosecution’s case against the suspect, Farroukh Erdogan (Moschitto), involves classified evidence which can only be heard in closed court proceedings.
The Attorney General (Broadbent) must appoint a Special Advocate, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall), who has clearance to see the classified evidence and is tasked in representing Erdogan during the “closed” proceedings. Once the evidence is revealed to Simmons-Howe, she and Erdogan’s defence lawyer, Rose, are no longer allowed to communicate due to national security.
But when secrets begin to emerge and lives are endangered, they must work together, despite their personal history, to seek the truth.
In Closed Circuit, director John Crowley (Intermission, 2003) tries very hard to ask important questions like what costs are acceptable in order to “protect national security”? And, at what point does protecting national security become an easy excuse to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of the press? Questions that are certainly topical in today’s world of Wikileaks and more recently, the NSA and GCHQ mass-surveillance operations revealed by Edward Snowden.
However, when it comes to stories of secrets and conspiracies, you get the nagging feeling that this sort of thing has been done before and done better. One notable example being Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer (2010).
Crowley effectively punctuates his film with scenes using multiple CCTV camera angles of the same event making an interesting point about whether we’re right to be paranoid about the all-seeing surveillance state. But when he also has his characters continually shoot suspicious glances at CCTV cameras or strangers in the crowd who may, or may not, be secret service agents, you feel that Crowley is trying a bit too hard to get his point across.
Scripted by Steven Knight, who has written some exceptional scripts detailing life in gritty London including Redemption (2013), Eastern Promises (2007) and Dirty Pretty Things (2007), again produces an admirable script focusing on the morally grey area between seeking true justice and protecting the public at large. So it’s unfortunate when the plot really begins to stretch the limits of credibility as it approaches the third act and asks a lot of your willingness to suspend your disbelief to see it through to it’s conclusion.
As in any conspiracy thrillers, there’s always characters who are not quite what they seem, and when done well, you don’t see the character twists coming. But alas, Closed Circuit doesn’t do a great job in providing genuinely unforeseen twists. It won’t spoil the plot to point out how dastardly Broadbent’s Attorney General comes across from the very start. It’s almost a bit pantomime. (“Oooh, he’s clock-watching during a funeral, he’s definitely a baddie!”)
It’s also a shame to report how uninvolving the central relationship between Bana’s Martin and Hall’s Claudia is, as both actors have both done some very accomplished work in the past. Perhaps because this relationship, and the history they share together, is never really given enough screen time early on to help us believe in it later when the thriller aspect of the film kicks off. A sense of a lack of chemistry between the pair is also prevalent throughout most of their scenes, excruciatingly noticeable in the hotel room scene.
All in all, what looks like a good little taut conspiracy thriller on paper with a great cast and accomplished writer, in reality adds up to much less than the sum of its parts. Bana, Hall, and especially Broadbent, can all do much better than this.