The film, starring Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey opens with a lovely Irish folk song and a look into the life she is living in Ireland, where she works as a shop girl with Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan), a rather rude and unkind woman. At the dinner table with her sister, Rose and mother, they discuss her trip to America, where Rose (Fiona Glascott) has arranged with the church, and a place for Eilis to stay. As a final farewell, she goes to a dance with her friend Nancy (Eileen O’Higgins), to say goodbye. Nancy finds a boy to dance with and Eilis slowly exits.
On the deck stand Eilis waving goodbye to Rose and her mother, among a sea of young people, setting sail for America and a better opportunity for her. The ship is noisy and crowded. Once she finds her room, she checks the small bathroom and realizes it is attached to another room. Just then, her roommate enters who is not kind to her at first. Eilis then leaves the room to eat alone. The server comes to her and tells her she’s brave for eating, since the weather will make the trip unpleasant. We are then stuck with a very sick Eilis locked out of her bathroom by the adjoining room. She wakes to her roommate stroking her head and helping her out. Her roommate picks the lock then locks the other roommates out of the bathroom.
Once they are getting ready to make landfall in America, the roommate helps Eilis to get dressed and gives her some tips about what to do. She tells her not to look sick, don’t cough, look like an American. From the immigration intake, Eilis goes to the all women boarding house where she stays with a few girls, Miss McAdam (Mary O’Driscoll), Patty (Emily Bett Rickards), Diana (Eve Macklin), Sheila (Nora-Jane Noone) and the head of the house, Ms. Kehoe (Julie Walters).
They are eating at the table and the girls are giddy and gossiping. She is distant and obviously homesick, even displaying distress at her job at Bartocci’s department store. The boss notices and calls the priest from the church to intervene.
The priest enrolls Eilis in night classes for bookkeeping and she is distracted from her homesickness and focused on school. One night she decides to go to a dance with the new girl, Dolores, who moved into the house. She meets Tony (Emory Cohen) there, a young and handsome Italian man. He then walks her home and they continue to see each other in the days to come. He waits outside her class each night to walk her home. After a few dates, he asks her to meet his Italian family. There is a funny scene where the other girls teach Eilis how to eat pasta without spilling sauce everywhere.
Once at dinner, the family really does like her, except the little brother who has to make a smart comment that the family doesn’t like Irish people. This is quickly nipped in the butt and they continue to be happy together and have a nice meal. As Tony walks Eilis home after dinner, they talk and when they bid each other farewell, he tells her that he loves her. She doesn’t have the best reaction, and does not return his profession of love. The next day they meet at their usual place to have him walk her home. Eilis waited for Tony and assumed he wasn’t going to show, but he does and she tells him that she loves him.
Tragedy strikes and Eilis discovers that her sister, Rose had died suddenly in Ireland. She could do nothing and wouldn’t be there for the funeral. Distraught and grief-stricken, she decides to return to Ireland. Before she goes, she and Tony make love and then get married at the City Hall. They agreed not to tell anyone of their marriage.
Back in Ireland, Eilis performs her duties as a sister and helps her mother, her sister’s previous employer, and even stays for Nancy’s wedding. Everyone is always wanting more from her. They keep putting her in positions to make her stay, even setting her up with Jim Farrell played by Domhnall Gleeson. She is torn and does not know what she should do. All the while, she is receiving letters from Tony, back in America.
One day, a woman approaches Eilis from Miss Kelly’s shop. The woman tells her that she must come see Miss Kelly immediately. Eilis goes to see her and the retched woman tells her that she knows she is married. Eilis reacts by telling her that she forgot what this town is like, and storms out, announcing her name as Eilis Fiorello. That night she tells her mother that she is married and is returning to America to be with her husband. It breaks her mother’s heart and she says goodbye that night. Eilis returns to America on a ship once again. She encounters a girl just like her when she first traveled to America. She gave her the same helpful advice that her roommate had given her. Back in America, she surprises Tony outside of his work and they embrace.
The acting and chemistry is great between all the characters. The relationships are real and the emotional turmoil that Eilis feels during the movie is conveyed very well to the audience. We feel her pain, her loss and her joy. It is a wonderful little film, with an outstanding cast and a truly memorable love story.
Overall grade: 8/10