Young Irish girl emigrates to America in the 1950s to find a better life. Just as she’s found her feet and got over her homesickness, family matters draw her back to Ireland for an extended visit. Now she has two choices – stay in Ireland or go back America. Either way she has improved economic prospects and a Nice Young Man. A major dilemma to be sure!

It sounds a bit Mills-and-Boony but it isn’t. Colm Toibin wrote the novel; he’s a serious literary writer who nevertheless manages to sell quite a lot of books. Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay, and he’s a sensitive hipster with a string of funny and/or intelligent movies to his name: High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, About A Boy and Wild.

It’s not a comedy but there are plenty of laughs, of the heartwarming rather than the cynical kind. This is because the writers have carefully observed and captured Irish patterns of speech and conversation without resort to those sure-and-begorrah-top-of-the-morning-to-ye sentimental cliches which in my view tainted Irish-American popular culture of the early twentieth century. Liz and I were inspired to have a most enjoyable discussion afterwards about what makes Irish humour so distinctive and appealing. We couldn’t quite put our fingers on it, but judging by audience reaction around us, our fellow movie-goers shared our fondness for it.

One smallish reservation: it seems to have become mandatory these days to portray the consummation of young love as a thing of mutual passion and abandon. I haven’t read Toibin’s book, but I suspect he wrote that scene differently from the way it’s depicted in the movie. Any young virginal catholic girl who came of age in the 1940s and 50s would have had the odd inhibition about sex, believe you me.

If it’s thoroughly modern in its treatment of young love, it’s refreshingly old-fashioned in having a Catholic priest who’s not only NOT a sexual weirdo but is a positively loveable force for good in his often poor and miserable community.

Rather like the priests I knew in my childhood. Just sayin’.

First posted to Facebook 28.2.2016