This 44-page book is printed in-house and contains a detailed semiological commentary prepared with the general reader, students and teachers in mind. 

For those who would like to use it as a teaching and learning aid in a classroom situation the film has been segmented into thirteen sequences of 10 to 15 minutes duration.


(DVD Chapter 1: 0.00 - 8.56: 8 mins)
​Let the film roll until Eilis’s ship moves off

As a poignant musical theme plays on the soundtrack, the film opens on a night-time shot of a dark street. A single lamp-post throws light on the scene. Two cars are parked on either side of the road. They look like models from the 1950s. A pair of bicycles lean on a metal railing that runs along the left-hand side of the frame. Smoke or light rain drifts from the right over a dismal empty scene. Dark greys, browns and black are the predominant colours in the composition. A cut to a close-up of the obscured glass of a door introduces the main character in the action, Eilis Lacey. She is walking towards the camera. We do not get a clear view of her through the glass. She turns out the hall light and steps outside and we see that she is a young woman. She proceeds down the street. The camera tracks backwards in front of her so that her face continues to occupy the same amount of the frame. Then a cut shows her walking to the end of the street towards a building that looks like a church. Another cut to an internal shot of a church follows and a male voice comes on the soundtrack intoning a prayer in Latin from the Consecration of the Catholic mass. The use of Latin is another indication that this film is set in an age before the 1970s, after which the vernacular replaced Latin in the ceremonies of the Catholic Church. A reverse medium shot of one of the church pews presents us with three women kneeling devoutly and listening to the priest’s voice. The woman in the middle is older than the other two. A close-up of Eilis shows her suppressing a yawn: she could be tired, or bored with the proceedings. The woman beside her, Ms Kelly, is less than impressed with this sign of in-attention. Another close-up shot of Eilis lets us see that she is as conscious of the scrutiny of Ms Kelly as she is of the Divine Presence in the church. We are being positioned to draw these conclusions about Eilis by the camerawork and the editing. The screen fades to black and the title Brooklyn appears.

A three-shot opens the next scene as the women from the church stand in front of a grocery shop window whose blinds are down. Ms Kelly is opening the shop door. Eilis asks if she can talk to Ms Kelly later and receives a cranky answer. We are being positioned to view this woman as one who sees herself as being above, and only barely tolerant of, Eilis. A reaction shot of Eilis shows the pressure she is under in dealing with this woman. The next shot is a close-up of Eilis taking a single cigarette out of a sealed tin. This may be an indication of the impoverished state of the customer who can only afford to indulge his smoking habit sparingly. Ms Kelly, who has been keeping a close watch on what is going on outside in the street declares that nine o’clock mass is over. The audience might conclude that Ms Kelly and the girls have been to early mass in order to be ready for the customers who will visit the shop later in the morning. Medium shots of Eilis, her fellow worker, Mary, and Ms Kelly show us the after-mass crowd of customers who throng the shop. Ms Kelly’s face cracks into a smile as one customer, Mrs Brady, enters. It is the first time we have seen her without the sour face she showed during the mass. She holds all the other customers and her staff in equal disdain, but her attitude to this customer is different. Eilis, who has already asked a customer to hold on for a moment, is embarrassed when she is ordered, instead, to attend to Mrs Brady, who has ordered a quarter pound of rashers from the back of the crowd. The quick reaction shots of the customer and Eilis inserted by the editing position us to draw this conclusion. The quick succession of shots of the exchange between Ms Kelly and the customer who asks for shoe polish suggests the discomfiture of the woman and shows clearly the lack of respect that Ms Kelly has for her. We are being positioned to view her as a cold and unsympathetic woman who looks down on her fellow townspeople. She is the embodiment of small-town snobbery.

A medium shot of Eilis as Mary clears up lets us see her gather herself to have the talk with Ms Kelly that she requested in the earlier scene. The latter tells her ungraciously to “Spit it out, whatever it is”, an instruction hardly designed to put the young woman at her ease. A series of shot/reverse shots gets the dialogue across to us. The camera is handheld and its slightly shaky motion increases our sense of Eilis’s discomfiture. If Ms Kelly is surprised by the news that Eilis is off to America, she keeps it well hidden and dismissively asks whose idea it was. After hearing the details of how her sister, Rose, and a golf partner of hers, Fr Flood, arranged things for Eilis, she terminates her employment. She refuses Eilis’s offer to continue working until it is time for her to leave and walks away. A more distant two-shot punctuates the conversation at this point but the medium shots return when Ms Kelly stops and talks about Rose. The camera lingers on Eilis as her sister’s bleak future is spelled out to her by her spiteful ex-employer. An over-the-shoulder shot of Eilis shows her discomfiture. Then the soundtrack plays the sound of Ms Kelly’s footsteps as she walks away and draws a curtain. The unsteady, handheld camera holds on Eilis and the long take, the delay in cutting away from her, invites us to share in her distress as the consequences of her emigrating sink in. This is the first of many dinner table scenes that will punctuate the narrative. Mrs Lacey sits in the centre of the composition in this establishing shot with her daughters on either side of her. Pictures and lampstands add to the symmetry of the composition. A close-up shot of Eilis breaks the cosiness of the scene as she mentions how she wishes she had written to Fr Flood about Rose. This links the scene directly back to the previous one and continues to position us to empathise with the sense of guilt that has been inserted into Eilis’s mind by Ms Kelly. Rose maintains that she never thought of emigrating because she has a full-time job as opposed to the mere hours of employment that Eilis had. She refers to Ms Kelly as “Nettles Kelly” and then calls her “a terrible auld witch.” Mrs Lacey tries to maintain a sense of Christian charity in their conversation, but a close-up positions us to see a wry smile breaking across her lips, indicating that she sees more than a little truth in the nickname. Further close-ups of the daughters invite us to share their gentle mockery of the naivety of their mother as she refers to the climate of America. The editing continues to add close-ups as the talk gets on to buying clothes and we can see clearly the shock that comes over the faces of Rose, Eilis and Mrs Lacey when reference is made unwittingly to the length of time Eilis will be spending away. This is emphasised by the slowing down of the cutting and the rather longer take of Rose as the words slip out.

The next scene opens with a rapping on another front door. Eilis’s friend, Nancy opens it and smiles excitedly. She is beautiful, smiling, well dressed and wearing a bow in her hair. They link arms and walk down the street together. The camera frames them in medium shot and tracks before them. This keeps the attention of the audience on them as they continue to occupy the same space in the frame: we are positioned to empathise with their pleasure in each other’s company and take in all that they say. Eilis compliments Nancy on her looks and talks about her despair “of this place.” She is referring to the town of Enniscorthy and the lack of opportunity it offers young women. She also refers disparagingly to George Sheridan and the local rugby club. Nancy is obviously smitten with him but Eilis seems to want more than her native town is offering. She dismisses George as “... not Gary Cooper,” a Hollywood heartthrob from the 40s and 50s. She also dismisses his companions from the rugby club who all follow the same fads and fashions in “... hair oil and ... blazers”. The only good thing she says about George is that he will inherit a fine business in the town when his time comes. The atmosphere between the two friends is still good in spite of Eilis’s put-downs, but Nancy changes the subject at this stage and talks about Eilis’s costume. The latter’s excuse for not dressing up more is that she is going away. The suggestion is that she is dissatisfied with this small-town man-hunting. This scene closes with a long shot of the two friends crossing the street to join the crowd outside the dance.

This scene opened with the camera facing a closed front door, the second time in the narrative that the camera has introduced a character in this way. Eilis was presented to us through the obscured glass so we did not get a clear picture of her to start with. From the very start, however, we see Nancy fully and clearly. This may reflect their different attitudes to life in Enniscorthy. One of them accepts things as they are and sees herself and the life before her clearly; the other is a character who is still coming to terms with the world and has to grow into a sense of herself. Very often a narrative will present an enigma to the audience at the start. The solving of this enigma becomes the engine that drives the plot onwards, as it were. The fragmented picture of Eilis that we saw at the start and the fully formed image of Nancy may be an indication of the journey Eilis has to go on in this narrative in an attempt to come to a fully formed and clear picture of who she is and what she wants from life. Inside the dancehall the band plays to a small crowd that is dispersed around the hall in clusters, some standing around, some conversing and a few couples dancing. An over-the-shoulder shot from the point of view of Nancy and Eilis shows us the entrance of a cohort of young men all dressed in blazers and wearing hair oil! A reaction shot shows Nancy’s excitement and the indifference of Eilis which we detected in their dialogue in the previous scene. A close-up of the fiddler in the band introduces a new tune and a reverse shot from behind the band shows the dance-floor packed with couples: the evening has moved on and more people have arrived. The camerawork and the editing have moved the action on in a very economic way. This will become a major feature of the narrative technique in this film. Medium shots of one of the rugby crowd and Nancy follow. We know from the dialogue in the last scene what is going on here.