Sunday 17 December 2017

Here's hoping Brooklyn proves a bigger box-office hit than others filmed in Enniscorthy!

On set of the movie, Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan.
On set of the movie, Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan.

There we were, standing like a bunch of gobbloons in Court Street, when the man beside me in the crowd said it.

This man (I never caught his name) was a freelance press photographer come to town like some Wild West gun-slinger with his long lens:

'I suppose this will be remembered in Enniscorthy for years.'

Too right, Mister Papparazzo. We will be forever recalling to generations of Scalders as yet unborn the day we saw Saoirse Ronan waving from the back of a taxi, like royalty. Or how we spotted Domhnall Gleeson sporting a natty 1950s blazer on the steps of the Athenaeum.

By the time this article appears in print, the passing stranger with the telephoto will have already moved on to the next sensation in some other town. But we who remain here on Slaneyside will have our movie memories to cling to for the rest of our lives.

The old timers rubbernecking with the rest of us in Castle Street had the satisfaction of pulling rank and revealing that they can still call to mind previous occasions when Hollywood came to our town.

They enjoyed the pleasure of seeing Susan Hampshire (sigh!) swanning around as the love interest in the now largely forgotten 'Violent Enemy', which was released in 1967.

Then there was the 'Underground', dating back to 1969, which gave those involved an excuse to pull on World War II helmets. It too was a work which appears on no one's list of the 100 great feature films of all time.

It is more than 45 years since the snap of the clapper board was last heard in Enniscorthy, yet those two long gone, undistinguished works remain a live curiosity in the community consciousness. The hope is that 'Brooklyn' will prove considerably more successful than 'Violent Enemy' or 'Underground', maybe win a few Oscars, and really put Enniscorthy on the map.

Not only is it backed by money from Britain and Canada as well as Ireland, reason enough to foster optimism. We also have faith born of the fact that the script is based on the novel written by one of our own.

Colm Tóibín may move in exalted intellectual circles these days but he comes from Parnell Avenue and has sisters who still live out the Kiltealy Road.

The effect the production had on Enniscorthy was quietly extraordinary, with good natured crowds of all ages watching proceedings throughout last week with studied intensity. And it should be noted that studied intensity is the best approach to adapt when following the making of a modern day feature length entertainment. There are no quick thrills.

For instance, there was the Wednesday night time scene with the queue for the hop in the Athenaeum.

We looked on from the top of Castle Hill as drizzle fell. Quiet please! No flash photography! Rolling! Action! Saoirse and another actor ran across Castle Street in front of a vintage black car, with brolleys up, to join their fellow patrons waiting for admission to the dance hall. Maybe 20 seconds elapsed in all before they disappeared through the Athenaeum door.

All seemed to go well but director John Crowley decided a replay was called for, this time with the women running behind the passing Austin rather than in front. Then again with no brolleys. Then with a pair of lads also in the shot. Between each re-run came a great pause while the car was rolled back into its starting place and the role of each component part of this pantomime was closely reviewed and carefully tweaked. Again and again and again.

The chat among the onlookers – and we had a lot of time to spend chatting – was that that one scene indoors was shot and re-shot 37 times. The talk was that Saoirse was staying at her family home in Ardattin, near Tullow. That she had a suite in the Riverside Park. That she was making herself at home in the five star delights of Monart.

Wherever she was laying her head at night, Ireland's hottest young screen property was working her butt off in the cause of 'Brooklyn' during the days spent in our midst.

She was at the heart of the action, take after take, whether in Castle Street, in Friary Hill or in Court Street.

Many of those around her, from camera men to security staff, were also putting in 12 hour shifts as filming continued as late as 11 p.m. some evenings.

We who were on the outside looking in marvelled at the attention to 1950s detail involved. The double yellow lines erased. The false old style doors slotted in to cover modern PVC in terraced houses. The beautiful looking brown soda bread for sale in 'Kelly's' shop – formerly Bourke Roche's. The constant touching up of make-up. The children hired to play hopscotch on street pavements. The felt hats, the overcoats and the brylcreem. The endless adjustments to sound and light.

'It has to be good for Enniscorthy' was the oft repeated refrain among the onlookers.

Though many of the services were bought in from further afield, the local Wexford economy was certainly boosted by having to provide accommodation for the Sunset Films team, all 112 of them from actors to electricians, from sound recordists to carpenters and caterers.

The fact is that Enniscorthy was chosen as backdrop to the Irish leg of the production not so much because it is genuine Colm Tóibín territory as because it is easier to re-create a bygone Ireland in a town where the past is not so very bygone at all. We were left more or less intact by the Celtic Tiger as the boom largely passed us by.

Now we may live in the expectation that 'Brooklyn' will prove to be a box office dynamite and that maybe we will not have to wait another 45 years this time before the cameras roll once more in our streets. It's been fascinating. We certainly will remember the past few days and we would love to have more of the same.

Wexford People

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