Brooklyn

Director: John Crowley (2015)

This beguiling tale about a young Irishwoman in New York is far and away the best film released this week.

Saoirse Ronan adds another fine performance to her CV as a thoughtful, amenable soul on a voyage of self-discovery. Her subtle strength is reflected in the quality of the filmmaking.

Based on Colm Toibin’s novel, it features a charming cast working from a smart script, a lovely eye for period detail and gorgeous photography.

Much creative budget-stretching gives it a polish and sweep much better financed films should envy.

Nick Hornby also wrote Reece Witherspoon’s Wild (2015) and has found a niche writing thoughtful, female character centred films.

I wouldn’t want to wish him out of a job, but it’s a poor commentary on the industry these films probably wouldn’t be made with a non-name female writer attached.

Eilis Lacey realises 1950’s Ireland has little to offer her and so suffers an undignified sea crossing in search of a future.

When Eilis steps from the gloomy immigration hall into the bright colour of the big apple, it’s a magical moment similar to Dorothy stepping into the wonderful world of Oz.

As Eilis struggles with homesickness, heartache and the harsh winter, a Christmas dinner for the homeless diaspora is a reminder of the unforgiving nature of the world.

Thankfully the fiddle playing is kept to a minimum.

Jim Broadbent’s kindly Father Flood finds her a job in a department store under the sternly glamorous gaze of Miss Fortini, played with panache by Jessica Pare.

Eilis must also carefully navigate the politics of her boarding house dining table, refereed by Julie Walters’ mother hen of a landlady, Mrs Kehoe.

As well as having every intention of keeping god away from her nylons, Mrs Kehoe warns her female-only clientele of the sinfulness of giddiness.

The many women Eilis meets offer small kindnesses, advice and insight to her own possible futures.

As she slowly builds a life for herself Eilis is torn between sweet suitors on either side of the pond.

Domhnall Gleeson Irish rugby fan is unknowingly pitted against Emory Cohen’s baseball fanatic Italian-American.

But a secret Eilis keeps even from her mother threatens to scupper her happiness.

As the cast disarms the audience with humour, the drama to creeps up with surprising power.

Though Ellis may not quite conquer New York, Ronan’s performance will capture your heart. And no doubt an award nomination or two as well.

Wild

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée (2015)

Reese Witherspoon abandons her clean cut perky persona for sex and drugs in this meandering march to personal redemption.

Justifiably Oscar nominated she’s as engaging as ever playing the real-life Cheryl Strayed on whose memoir the story is based.

In order to distance herself from her chaotic past, Cheryl punishes herself by hiking alone over a thousand miles along the picturesque Pacific mountain trail; the barren deserts, snowy mountains and lush forests are all captured with tourist propaganda beauty.

Promiscuity, alcohol and drugs have contributed to a failed marriage, pregnancy and subsequent failed therapy. Despite her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) being a warm, inspiring and optimistic presence, it’s Bobbi’s story that has compounded Cheryl’s self-destructive behaviour and the trigger for her long walk.

Despite Cheryl’s anger issues we warm to her charm and humour, admiring her dogged determination and perseverance in maintaining a relationship with ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski).

With insufficient preparation she battles grief, guilt and remorse as well as extreme temperatures, rattlesnakes, gun-toting hillbillies, loneliness, lack of food, inelegant toilet facilities and large amounts of unwanted male attention.

Even so the walk itself is fairly uneventful and she receives the frequent help of strangers plus a welcome taste of romance.

With a far from satisfactory script structure from Brit writer Nick Hornby, the reasons for her trek revealed in a series of flashbacks. This means most of the drama has happened before the film has even begun, creating a void where the tension should be.

In heavy-handed fashion inspirational phrases are scrawled across the screen as if we’re not capable of listening to or understanding literature. Worse, there’s no consistent application of the conceit.

It’s an unusual criticism to make – but what this film seems to be lacking most is a train of camels.

☆☆