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Ellis’ Choice – ★★★

The much-awaited adaptation of the Colm Tóibín book is finally arriving on screens, some 10 months after it debuted at the Sundance film festival. It’s directed by John Crowley who is probably still best known for his film Intermission.

The film adaptation of the novel tells the story of Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), an Enniscorthy girl who leaves her mother and sister Rose and the relative stability (and sterility) of early 1950’s Ireland to go to Brooklyn to start a new life. She is set up in her new life by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) with a boarding room in the home of Ma Kehoe (Julie Walters) and a job in a department store – with the added opportunity to do accounting and book-keeping night classes. Ellis is initially incredibly homesick but finds love with a sweet as sugar Italian-American named Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines), allowing everything in her new life to slot into place.

Just as we feel like everything is going her way, a call comes from home that her only sister has died and her mother needs her home. A quick wedding to Tony at City Hall in New York precedes a return to the mundane normality back in Wexford. But to throw a giant spanner in the works, she get job offers and finds herself  becoming friendly with Domhnall Gleeson’s Jim Farrell – leaving her faced with a conundrum between two well set up lives.

The script is adapted by Nick Hornby, who has good recent form with writing credits for An Education and the Cheryl Strayed memoir “Wild“. Unfortunately here he opts to lay on the sentiment a little too heavily and arguably rushes the ending and outcome of “the choice” -something that may bother those who were so affected by the outcome and dilemmas of book.

The story is set in the 1950s but with the exception of two telephone calls (the circumstances of which give it some period weighting), it could easily have been a story from the 1910s or 20s with no mention made of American’s brooding Cold War or the fact the country was still ravished by participation in the conflicts in Korea.

The film is a co-production between Ireland, the UK and Canada with the Brooklyn scenes mostly filmed in Montreal. All this international co-operation leaves the film without much bite as it paints a glossy sheen over both Ireland and America of the era. It says very little of the church’s control in the era and instead makes it out to be some sort of saving grace for young people.

Even with these criticisms, it’s very hard not to be pulled in by the sheer scale of the romantic story. Saoirse Ronan is fantastic in a relatively rare leading role and both Cohen and Gleeson make for excellent adversaries opposite her. Homesickness is one of the hardest ailments to describe and anyone who’s ever lived away by choice or force will feel something from the story. It’s just a pity that Crowley and the international production interests opted to apply such a sentimental lacquer over all the loneliness and pain.

Released in Irish cinemas on November 6th 2015

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.