Brooklyn Boro

‘It was my mother’s story…for so many of the Irish, it was all our stories’

An Interview with Finola Dwyer, Producer of the Film ‘BROOKLYN’

October 28, 2015 By Peter Stamelman Special to the Brooklyn Eagle
Actor Saoirse Ronan. Photos by Kerry Brown, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures
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Finola Dwyer has impeccable taste. The New Zealand-born, London-based producer has made such smart, stylish films as “An Education,” (introducing to a wider audience the gifted, radiant actress Carey Mulligan), “Quartet” (Dustin Hoffman’s first directorial effort) and “A Long Way Down” (based on Nick Hornby’s best-seller.) Now, having once again collaborated with Hornby, and his wife Amanda Posey, who is her producing partner (on all films but “Quartet”) Dwyer has produced “Brooklyn,” the film version of Colm Toibin’s sublime 2009 novel. (The Fox Searchlight release opens locally on Nov. 4.)

Dwyer’s other exceptional collaborators include director John Crowley, cinematographer Yves Belanger, the production designer Francois Sequin, the costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux (who both magically recreate the look of early ’50s Brooklyn) and the actors Saoirse Ronan (another prodigiously talented actress), Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters (who is hilarious as the sharp-tongued proprietor of a 1950s Brooklyn for-women-only boardinghouse.)

The film’s Brooklyn locations include the brownstones on Portland Avenue, between Dekalb and Lafayette, and on South Oxford Street between Fulton and Lafayette. In addition, there is a gloriously recreated Coney Island. For baby boomer Brooklynites of a certain age, seeing these locations in their ’50s incarnations is as nostalgia-inducing as Proust’s first bite of his madeleine.


The Eagle spoke by telephone recently with Dwyer, while she was in New York for the screening of “Brooklyn” at the 53rd New York Film Festival (where the film was rapturously received.)

Emory Cohen as "Tony" and Saoirse Ronan as "Eilis Lacey" in “BROOKLYN.” Photos by Kerry Brown, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Eagle: What was the genesis of your involvement with “Brooklyn”?

Finola Dwyer: I met Colm [Toibin] totally by chance in April 2010. I needed to recalibrate after the fantastic journey with “An Education” that took us all the way to the 2010 Oscars. I had already read the book in galleys in 2009 and adored it. I literally was looking at a copy of “Brooklyn” in a little neighborhood bookstore in SoHo and thought I must check if the rights are still available; I felt sure that I knew how the film could be made. I was equally sure the rights were probably long gone. The next day I went to visit a friend who was at the rare book sale at the Armory and who was also a friend of Colm’s. I asked him if he knew if Colm had sold the rights and he said that [Colm] would be along at some point (as he was teaching at Princeton and buying for the library). We ended up meeting, got on very well and by the end of that encounter, he said, “If you would like the rights, they are yours.” I was absolutely delighted — and flabbergasted, because he had said no to everyone else.

Eagle: How familiar were you with the actual Brooklyn?

FD: I was fairly familiar with Brooklyn. I remember the first time emerging from the subway at Fulton Street for a Q&A after a screening of “An Education” and emerging into what could have almost been a Bartocci’s environment [the department store where Saoirse Ronan’s character, Eilis, has her first job after arriving from Ireland]. I hadn’t yet gone after the rights at that point, but I know that was an important moment for me — seeing what the film could be. In the later part of 2010 (by which time I had the rights), I stayed with friends in Brooklyn while working in New York, and spent many an hour walking the streets of Brooklyn. My very first time in New York, in fact, in 1987, I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and strolled along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, taking in the spectacular views. I loved Brooklyn…

Eagle: At a time when the studios seem to only be financing testosterone-driven, franchise action films and their sequels and prequels, how did you find financing for an old-fashioned, in the best sense of the word, drama?

FD: I had no backing at the time I acquired the rights from Colm. In fact, I was totally broke after “An Education” but I knew I would figure it out. In time, BBC Films came onboard to pay for the development costs, the option and for Nick Hornby to adapt the novel. It was still one of the toughest films, financially, that I’d worked on. In the end, we were able to arrange English, Irish and Canadian financing. We ended up making the film for $12 million, which is a remarkable number for a period film.

Eagle: Finally, as a nation of immigrants I feel that your film will touch a chord in the U.S. In addition, since exile and immigration are now, sadly, global issues, I believe the film has particular resonance. Was this universal theme something that you and Nick Hornby and John Crowley were aiming for?

FD: Absolutely. It was my mother’s story. For so many of the Irish, it was all our stories. And the cast sensed this also, Saoirse in particular, because she had been born in the States and then moved back to Ireland. And we were so fortunate to have her as our Eilis. Ironically, when we first started raising the money for the film, Saoirse was too young for the role. But by the time we had all the money together, she was just the right age. So, in a way, the difficulties and delays helped us. The proverbial “luck of the Irish,” I guess!

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“Brooklyn” opens in New York Nov. 4.

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis and Domhnall Gleeson as Jim.

Director of Photography Yves Bélanger and Saoirse Ronan on the movie’s set.

Director of “BROOKLYN” John Crowely.

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