Directed by John Crowley.
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. 111 mins
As you would expect from the title, this is a very Irish film, telling a very Irish story, the only Irish story really – the one about painfully leaving Ireland. In 1952 Eilis (Ronan) makes the heart wrenching decision to leave her grey, rain-swept County Wexford town and become another one of the thousands sailing across the western ocean to a land of opportunity.
Luckily everything falls smoothly into place and the move goes exactly as expected. After the sad goodbye to the mother and sister she's leaving behind, there's the fraught ocean crossing and the homesick early months, until she meets a nice little Italian boyfriend (Cohen) and the pair fall head over heels in love. (The boyfriend is romcom perfect; Cohen has the amiable charm of Sam Rockwell but strained through the berkish, optimistic smile of Olly Murs.)
Nick Hornby's adaptation is apparently very faithful to the events and tone of Colm Tóibín's novel, but is a lot less meaty and much more light hearted then you'd expect of a book that was long listed for the Booker prize. Eilis is a frightful goodie goodie, always considerate and responsible, and the film takes its lead from her: it is calm, good spirited, warmly funny and unflustered. You may expect there to be more drama but it works much better without it. Instead of the dramatisation of an experience, it feels very much like the actual experience.
If nothing else, the film finally reveals the purpose of Saoirse Ronan. Since making her breakthrough as a 13 year old in Atonement, she has enjoyed an incredible career, remarkable for its consistent lack of success. She has spent her teenage years starring in unsuccessful films. She's a very decent actor, but has never exactly exuded star quality, quite the opposite really. Here though she is a perfect fit. It's a touching, natural performance mixing robust determination and vulnerability. Her ordinariness is ideal for the role of Eilis, and it emphasises the idea that hers is just one of the countless stories that make up the paddiaspora.