Brooklyn is a story adapted from Colm Tóibín's novel where in the 1950s, Eillis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is torn between two men and two countries, Ireland or New York.
We attended the Press Conference for Brooklyn at the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. At the front of The May Fair Hotel's 'Screening Room' were Nick Hornby (Screenwriter), John Crowley (Director), Saoirse Ronan (Actor), Colm Tóibín (Novel Writer) and Finola Dwyer (Producer). Written below are some of the best and most interesting questions and answers.
Brooklyn arrives in UK cinemas 6th November 2015.
You can read our ★★★★☆ review of the film here
Fiona, this is a very universal story, but I think in the genesis of this becoming a film it was also something deeply personal to you.
Yes, it absolutely was, I read the novel very early after it came out, I absolutely loved it. It was my mother’s story, my story and over time the more I thought about it, I thought, actually it’s a very universal story, so many people’s story about living somewhere different to where you grew up.
Colm, what was your biggest anxiety, if you had one, about the book’s translation into a film?
The world that she (Eilis) navigates in the book is one where so many people are so kind to her in one way, so pleasant, very nice. I suppose that amount of flavour that comes from the book, from trips of speech, from the way that someone’s face moves was something that I think Nick captured better than the book in certain ways.
Saoirse, we think of you as a bit more sophisticated and certainly better travelled than Eilis, but you were at that right age of transitioning from adolescence into a young woman and you have connections with Ireland and New York. Was there some particular thing that really connected you or that you really responded to in her above all else?
Yeah, I really do feel the weight, the heaviness you experience when you are homesick and when you leave home for the first time and haven’t really settled anywhere, floating between these two different places. You can’t quite go back to where you’re from, but you’re not quite settled in this place you’re moving towards either. There is definitely that sense of loss and vulnerability I think and you don’t really know when that’s going to be lifted. From the time in which I had met John (Director) initially to discuss the script to when we actually made the film a year later I had moved away, so I was right in the middle of that heaviness, that feeling Nick describes so well through the writing. I guess you can liken it to reading a book or listening to a piece of music or watching a film yourself that completely speaks to you and for whatever reason, you feel like you’re going to be connected to that for life. I felt that in every scene we shot. It felt quite unusual to not be able to turn off my emotions at the end of the day.
John, this is a huge thing, shooting in three countries with a trans-Atlantic cast, recreating another era, what was the biggest challenge for you?
Three countries essentially meant three crews. We had a core crew that remained the same, but Saoirse was the only actor who was consistent to the whole thing. So in a strange way, she had multiple personalities, the Irish section was very distinct, the Montreal section was its own thing, then New York was its own thing, so it was kind of appropriate for what she goes through. We were shooting out of order which was challenging when you’re trying to do a subtle transformation from a rather pale young girl into a rather beautiful young woman who is very sure of what she is about or is arriving into what she is about by the end of the story. And judging all of that out of order, making sure the pieces of the mosaic are right when we lay it out, it took some thought.
Nick, you’re not Irish and you’re not a girl, but my goodness. You’re on a roll writing good women’s roles. What element did you most want to focus on?
Well I saw the chance to produce a screenplay that was extremely beautiful and classic, and that sort of thing doesn’t come along every day. There were wonderful minor characters and this enormous technical challenge of persuading people that Eillis is properly split, that was an enormously interesting thing to try and convey. When I read the book, if I were Eillis I would feel much more drawn to Brooklyn than to Ireland, but in the movie I felt much more torn.
Was it intentional to make the Irish part of her life more attractive or did that come naturally?
John – We did work very hard for that right through the edit to try and balance those two elements because that’s what we want you to feel, that sort of conflict. It’s either very sharp in the film or it’s near on flat and if it’s tiled in one direction it wouldn’t work as well. Our task was to make sure that it’s not an odd thing to do, to invest in this relationship romantically for the first hour of the film, then to park it and say, look here’s this other guy and to get to an equal place of investment in three, maybe four scenes, that Nick did so definitely, without the audience going “she’s a cow”. To get that and to feel the dilemma was the task. Believe me that took a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
Colm – It isn’t as though when people read the book everybody would have the same view. They really don’t. The scene that I thought really mattered was the wedding scene when they are with their families in the local church watching the wedding, you can see what’s going through her mind “This could be me, I could be enclosed by all these people who love me in this community I know and this would mean something to me rather than being alone in a world I don’t know.” For those pages a lot of readers think “oh, she’s going to do anything to stay” and then the other thing happens. It isn’t as though every reader has the same response to the book.
Nick – I think when you’re reading the book and you see how little is left of the book when she meets Jim, you think “there is no way that I am going to be persuaded that she should stay in Ireland” and Colm’s extraordinary achievement was that with the little space he had left in the book he persuades us that they are viable alternatives to each other. The real technical challenge, when you’re writing the screenplay and making a movie, the few pages that Colm gave himself is actually reduced way beyond that even and we had to find a way of presenting Jim as a proper suiter for Eillis.
How did you work on the fashion to see the difference between Ireland and New York? And Saoirse, what did you think of wearing these costumes?
John - Odile Dicks-Mireaux (Costume Designer) did the costumes beautifully. The one thing I kept stressing was that they had to be clothes, not costumes, because you’re dealing with a period, especially on the American side, where pop culture was just beginning to take hold of the people who had a little bit of a disposable income, like the girls in the boarding house. There was a little bit of fun could be had there, but it was important that the first section is actually be held in a very tight rein in colours and the nature of the clothes, in order that when Eillis comes back for the third section, it’s like the Kennedys returning home to Ireland, there is this sense of glamour about her.
Saoirse – There was a confidence as well that she holds with these clothes when she comes back, that’s what I noticed with the film. Odile (Costume Designer) and I mapped everything out, it was very much down to her where we took it, but the great thing about the whole team was that everyone approached it in a similar way. Someone described it the other day as a delicate film, the progress when it comes to her look, it’s all quite delicate, and it’s all quite gradual. It’s only really when she goes back to Ireland that we see suddenly how much pop colours she’s wearing in her clothes and she has sunglasses on. I don’t remember wearing sunglasses when I was younger; I thought that was too flashy. Maybe just because the sun doesn’t exist in Ireland. That’s a real confidence thing though, you have to hold yourself top wear those kinds of outfits. I am always very drawn to greens and blues; I always thought that was quite important. It suited me, but it also represented the journey she had gone on. I just like the idea of her representing land, water, and all that kind of stuff. So we worked in that way with the colour pallet. The 50’s outfits were always so womanly and encouraged women, as opposed to now, to have curves, a bum and boobs, girls are almost encouraged to be wafer thin now and not have any shape at all. At that time, it was healthy. It was good for the girls to have proper bras, a good skirt; it definitely put you in that mind-set of a woman in the 50’s.
Nick, you are a novelist adapting another novelists work, can you tell us about the process of doing that?
Nick - I think it’s very frightening because the book is so loved and so special to its readers. So of course there a tension of “am I going to mess this up?” But Colm was so incredibly generous and hands off in a way that was so wise, having been adapted. The only sensible course of action is to decide that you trust the people who are making the film and to let them get on with it. We met once and Colm told me that they shouldn’t say “rashers of bacon”, they should just say “rashers” and a couple of other things, like “mammy” and “mummy” and that was pretty much it in terms of consultation. We all seem to still be friends as a result. It worked out pretty well.
Colm - When we met that time, you had written the script, I wasn’t meeting him beforehand, telling him what I thought he should do; I was reading the script just to say “there are two tiny things, but otherwise, thank you. You have done a wonderful job” so that’s really what we met for.
Brooklyn arrives in UK cinemas 6th November 2015.
You can read our ★★★★☆ review of the film here