ONE of the movies I watched again over Christmas was Brooklyn (2015, available on iPlayer).
I loved this film from the first time I saw it, a story of a young Irish woman, Eilis Lacey, who makes the momentous decision to leave her small Irish home town of Enniscorthy, County Wexford, her mother and her sister, to to start a new life in America. Saoirse Ronan is cast as the lead and her classic timeless beauty is beguiling and charming.
The first few times I saw this film I was spellbound by Ronan’s acting, the hilarious scenes in the house where Eilis is living, and the charming Italian who falls head over heels in love with her. The movie also features a wonderful Irish priest who supports Eilis in Brooklyn. In fact the Catholic church with its many rituals is a character all on its own, so there are many attractions for me. However, on this latest watch it struck me just how poorly our heroine behaves when she returns to Ireland after the sudden and devastating death of her elder sister, Rose.
Eilis goes home to Enniscorthy to be with her mother but before she leaves she marries, in a quiet civil ceremony, the charming Italian boyfriend, Tony Fiorello. Eilis always intends to return to America to continue her new life there with her husband, having conquered the crushing homesickness she first experienced and progressed in her work and book-keeping course. So it seems odd that she fails to mention her husband to anyone, not her childhood friend who is getting married or even her own mother.
Eilis’s mother, both a widow and recovering from the death of Rose, is of course hoping that her younger daughter will stay in Ireland. She doesn’t put any explicit pressure on Eilis to do this but she is given hope to believe this will happen as Eilis goes on a series of dates with the most eligible young man in the village, Jim Farrell. Over the summer (it must be the summer because amazingly this seems the only town in Ireland where it never rains and you can get away with wearing summer dresses day in and day out) the two become close, doubling up with the engaged best friend and her fiancé, going to dances and dinners and even meeting his parents. Jim is smitten and about to propose marriage. Not once does Eilis mention that in fact she is married and instead strings this guy along for the entire summer.
I get that Eilis is torn – that perhaps there is a chance she will stay –but I have to say this behaviour struck me as poor form. If the roles were reversed I dare say the bloke would be condemned as a cad or a sleaze and that would be a very accurate description. Things come to a head when the local busybody, Miss Kelly, summons Eilis to her home and informs her that she knows Eilis was married in Brooklyn. This is all too much for Eilis who manages somehow to grab the moral high ground despite her deception of everyone.
How dare you say such a thing, Eilis implies, now I remember why I left this town – there are small-minded busybodies everywhere. Did you expect me never to return to Brooklyn? Well, I thought, did you ever expect to return to Brooklyn, because you didn’t seem to very sure until about five seconds ago? Eilis finally declares her full married name and rides out of there dripping with righteousness, although she has little to be righteous about.
Eilis goes home and informs her mother that, actually, she was married all along and will be returning to Brooklyn, so you have a nice life. And as for the lovely chap Jim, he receives a Dear John letter overnight. Indeed, our heroine doesn’t even have the decency to inform Jim to his face that in fact I have humiliated you in front of the entire small Irish town (believe me, this is a humiliation that will stick for life) you have wasted your time with me and I don’t know how I failed to mention my husband! No, Eilis steals away like a thief in the night, no doubt leaving carnage in her wake.
So there we have it. I get the conflict and I get the bravery of starting a new life. I get the timeless beauty of it all but I don’t get the deception and dishonesty. This is a beautiful film about poor behaviour. Badly done Eilis, badly done.