Step back in time with Bafta-winning Brooklyn… in Montreal

New York only has a cameo in the Best British Film of 2016 - but you do see Colm Tóibín's birthplace and favourite beach

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Based on Colm Tóibín’s bestselling novel, Brooklyn is about a young woman who emigrates from small-town Ireland to New York and forges a new life for – only to be brought home by a family tragedy. She finds herself torn between two men and two coun- tries: her homeland and America.

Like Carol, it’s a moving coming- of-age tale set in the 1950s. But instead of the plush department stores and chic cafés of Manhattan, Tóibín’s heroine, Eilis Lacey (Saiorse Ronan), takes up residence in a boarding house in Brooklyn. Daunted by the bright lights, brownstones and brash confidence, Eilis comes down with a bad case of homesickness.

Fortunately, she soon meets a handsome Italian-American who takes her on a date to Brooklyn’s famous Coney Island amusement park. There they stroll with sticks of candy floss along the wood-plank boardwalk that’s still there to this day, and Eilis shyly shows off her new swimsuit on the beach.

New Yorkers have been flocking to Coney Island in search of fresh air since the mid-1800s, and the first family amusements arrived in the early 1900s. By the 50s, it was in decline, but it’s enjoyed a renais- sance in recent years – and retained a nostalgic charm. You can still ride the Wonder Wheel and the rickety Cyclone roller coaster, which have been running since the 20s.

Apart from Coney Island, most of the Brooklyn scenes were shot in Montreal. It’s not the first time Canada’s French-speaking second city has stood in for the New York borough – and the wide, leafy streets aren’t the only similarities.

View of Montreal from Mount Royal (which you won’t see in Brooklyn)

Much of the filming took place in Mile End, which squats below the slopes of Mount Royal. Had Eilis disembarked there, she’d also have found a thriving Jewish and Italian community. It’s attracted immigrants, an artistic community (including rock band Arcade Fire) and hipsters – much like multicultural Brooklyn. 

It’s also a great place to stop for a bagel served Montreal-style: hand-rolled, woodfire-baked and never toasted. 


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Colm Tóibín’s Ireland

Enniscorthy

Eilis Lacey is from a town in County Wexford called Enniscorthy, which is also the birthplace of her creator, Colm Tóibín. The actress Saoirse Ronan (Eilis) was also familiar with Enniscorthy. Born in The Bronx in New York to Irish parents, she grew up in County Carlow — and used to go to the cinema in nearby Enniscorthy.

Eilis goes to a dance at the Athenaeum on Castle Street, an old gentleman’s club where Tóibín’s father ran dances in the late 50s. The wedding scene was shot in St Aidan’s Cathedral where Tóibín went to mass. The streets that Eilis walks — John Street, Court Street, Lower Church Street — really are little changed since the 1950s.

Two Enniscorthy sights didn’t make it into Brooklyn: Vinegar Hill, one of the most important battles of Ireland’s 1798 rebellions against British rule, and Enniscorthy Castle — built in the 16th century and home to the Wexford County Museum.

Curracloe Strand

The beach scenes were filmed at Curracloe Strand, a seven-mile stretch of soft white sand where you can walk for miles without seeing another soul. It’s also a favourite childhood spot of Tóibín’s. It’s not the first time Curracloe Strand has appeared on the big screen: it doubled as Normandy for the D-Day scene in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

Saoirse Ronan and co-star Domhnall Gleeson on Curracloe Strand

Nearby Curracloe village turns into a resort in summer, or you can cycle the eight miles from Wexford town. There are good walking trails through the pine forests and sand dunes of Raven Nature Reserve at the south-end of the strand.


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