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Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domnhall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Eva Birthistle

Director: John Crowley

Irish actress Ronan poignantly takes centre stage in this vignette, set in the early 1950s, about a teenage girl, Eilis (pronounced Aylish) who leaves her native Ireland (and mother and sister) behind and emigrates to Brooklyn, New York, where she's been found work and lodgings by a kindly priest (Broadbent).

Straight in from the Emerald Isle and boy is she green. Apart from being spectacularly seasick en voyage, that is, she's a fish out of water in the good old U S of A. But her digs at Ma Keough's (Walters, enjoying herself) give her security and she soon adapts to her job in a department store. She also helps Broadbent at the local soup kitchen, where hundreds of down-and-outs gather at Christmas.

'These,' he says, of the elderly, shuffling throng, 'are the men who built the bridges, the tunnels: God knows what they live on now.'

At a dance, Eilis meets Tony (Cohen), a young Italian-American plumber, and falls in love. Then a family tragedy intervenes, and Eilis must return to Ireland, where friends introduce her to wealthy Jim (Gleeson) and she is soon torn between two worlds.

I enjoyed the first two-thirds of this film a lot: the early 1950s atmosphere and styles are lovingly recreated, and Ronan and Cohen's relaxed chemistry renders their romance warm and real. The latter section in Ireland, however, is not altogether convincing, and certainly less persuasively done. Under Nick Hornby's screenplay, it's difficult to accept the sensible and sensitive Eilis' hiding Tony's letters unopened, and gaily embarking on a fling with the far less charismatic Jim.

Maybe the original book makes her pushing her life in America under the carpet easier to understand. But then perhaps Ronan is also just too good for us to accept this identity crisis.

David Quinlan

Ireland/UK/Canada 2015. UK Distributor: LionsGate. Colour (unspecified).
112 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 01 Nov 2015