The city of Brooklyn in the film was actually shot in Montreal for budgeting reasons, as the production was unable to turn 2015 Brooklyn back to 1950s Brooklyn. Only two days of production were spent in Brooklyn, one in order to create the brownstone exterior shots and a second to film at Coney Island.
John Crowley divided the movie into three different visual movements. The first movement is before Eilis leaves post-war Ireland and is with tight frames and filled with green tones. The color scheme was created by photographic reference of the time. The second movement begins when Eilis leaves for Brooklyn and the first proper wide shot is featured, while the colors become more playful as a nod to how America in 1952 was on the cusp of pop culture kicking off. The third movement is back in Ireland, brighter, more glamour and "subtly more colorful" than the first movement. Crowley wanted to showcase Eilis has changed and looks very different: "There is a slight dreamy quality to that last third," he says.
Saoirse Ronan was getting a manicure in Dublin when she discovered that she had received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the film. In her rush of excitement, she bought champagne for everyone in the salon.
Several reviews compared Emory Cohen in this film to a young Marlon Brando. In reality, Cohen based his character of Tony on on various sources, including Brando, but also the film Bicycle Thieves (1948), a couple of his uncles who work as electricians and from pets; "I thought about Tony as a dog. That's where a lot of that physical stuff came from" he said.
Saoirse Ronan herself was born in The Bronx, New York, but raised in Ireland to Irish parents. She considers 'Brooklyn' to be one of her most personal films and it marks the first time she plays an Irish character in a film. (In The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) she spoke with an Irish accent but played a citizen of a generic fictitious European country.) In an interview with David Poland she expressed her concern with taking the role:"I felt like I can't mess this up, because all of Ireland will be watching. I felt a huge responsibility to the country to really capture what the story was." However, she said the warm reception at the Sundance Film Festival made her realize the universal essence of the film.
Rooney Mara was originally cast in the lead role. However, her eventual replacement, Saoirse Ronan, was a front-runner for the part since the film began development, but she was too young to portray Eilis. The production was stalled for years, Mara backed out and when the project was ready to resume, Ronan had aged properly to fit the character and won the part.
The Irish dialect of Ronan's character differs from the one she uses in reality. In this film, she uses a Wexford accent, as her character is from Enniscorthy, while she speaks with a Dublin accent in her private life.
For the close-up scenes of Saoirse Ronan, cinematographer Yves Bélanger placed individual lanterns for her eyes in order to add a sparkle to their reflections. Bélanger also used an Alexa hand-held camera and a combination of studio and natural lights to capture a more real and personal depiction of the 1950s.
Irish author Colm Tóibín's idea for the novel came from a child memory, in which he overheard a woman talk about her young daughter's move from Enniscorthy to Brooklyn. In 2000 he wrote a short story about this memory, but expanded it to a novel years later, after living in United States himself, as well as teaching literary courses, where he said he was inspired by Jane Austen's "method of examining a single psychology, using an introspective, sensitive heroine, some comic characters and some romance."
Julie Walters claims her character is reminiscent of her real-life aunt. John Crowley offered the role to Walters because, among other things, he knew of her Irish descent; "I knew Julie had an Irish mother and I had a suspicion that she would know that woman inside out, and of course she did. She knew who she was, right down to what her hair should look like and what she should dress like. Her accent's impeccable and of course she's a hysterically funny actress, but here she's doing it in a very real way. It's beautifully played."
Julie Walters described her character Mrs. Keogh as a "very, very attractive and sexually charismatic woman" when promoting the film on The Graham Norton Show (2007). She also said her co-star Saoirse Ronan's talent makes her want to go back to drama school.
Among Irish film productions, it had the best local debut at the box office in 19 years. In Ireland, the film had the widest theatrical release ever for an Irish movie and its opening gross was the highest since Michael Collins (1996) opened in November 1996.
The book features a dream sequence in which Eilis deals with her homesickness. It was originally set to be featured in the script, but was ultimately cut. In the book, Eilis has a dream where she is drifting over the cliffs and you can see her hometown in the distance. Director John Crowley considered it beautiful and was eager to have the scene in the film, but screenwriter Nick Hornby said the idea would have been a cliché.
Saoirse Ronan wanted to keep her green swimsuit from the film. Director John Crowley jokes that the costume is stuck in a bidding war between councils of Brooklyn and Ireland, and that the latter wish to use it as their new national flag.
The scenes at Curracloe Beach were set at summer time. However, in reality filming took place on a clear and freezing day, outside the summer season. Eileen O'Higgins and Saoirse Ronan were shielded from the cold, due to their heavy dresses, while Domhnall Gleeson struggled to get through the scene, due to the low temperatures.
In the book, Eilis is the youngest of five children; she has three older brothers who left Ireland to find work in England. The film makes no mention of her brothers and only includes her sister, Rose.
This was the first film to be screened, among the eight films nominated for Best Picture at The Oscars (2016). It premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, almost a full year before the nominations were announced. However, it didn't receive a theatrical release until November 2015.
Producer Finola Dwyer acquired the rights for the book, when she met author Colm Tóibín at a rare book fair on behalf of Princeton University. The two immediately hit it off and Dwyer asked him right away whether he'd consider her optioning the book. Despite the fact that the rights were being pursued by a number of other parties, Tóibín gave Dwyer his blessing.
The novel by Colm Tóibín on which the film is based won the 2009 Costa Novel Award, was shortlisted for the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize. Also, in 2012, The Observer named it as one of "The 10 best historical novels'.
The first public screening of the film in Europe was held at a red carpet event in Enniscorthy, Ireland, where a great part of the production took place. Saoirse Ronan was unable to attend, but Colm Tóibín flew into the town from the US and walked the red carpet alongside cast members Eve Macklin and Gary Lydon. Due to popular demand two screenings were arranged and they were sold out in 45 minutes.
Jake Roberts, the editor of the film was recommended to the producers by Lone Scherfig who directed the similar themed An Education (2009), also based on a Nick Hornby script. He admittedly thought the film was a "hipster rom-com" when he first heard the title of the film.
For the costume design, Odile Dicks-Mireaux collected photographic images into two separate look books - one for Ireland and one for the US - featuring works from photographers such as Inge Morath, Saul Leiter, and Vivian Maier. She also visited Ireland's Kenelly Archive and the Brooklyn Museum Archive.
Before this film, Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey produced An Education (2009). These two films received the exact same Oscar Nominations; Best Picture (for which Dwyer and Posey received credit), Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Adapted Screenplay. Furthermore, Nick Hornby is the screenwriter of these two films.
"Frankie's Song" from the soundtrack, the only track to features vocal tunes, reunites composer Michael Brook and Iarla O'Lionaird. They collaborated on an album for Real World Records 20 years earlier.
Although they never share a scene together in this movie, this is the second collaboration between Domhnall Gleeson and Julie Walters. He played Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies and she played his mother, Molly Weasley.
The relationship between Eilis and Jim remains purely platonic in the film. In the book however, Eilis and Jim actually have an affair of sorts. This causes Eilis to question her marriage and to leave her husbands' letters unopened because she isn't sure she wants to go back to him anymore. It's not until the news of her behavior eventually reach New York through Miss Kelly's contacts, that she finally decide to immediately go back.
As the movie begins, Eilis is about to travel to America, because her sister has managed to convince Father Flood to find Eilis some work there. However, in the book, Father Flood actually personally convinces Eilis that America is a great place, where she'll have no trouble finding work, so her decision to leave Ireland is slightly better explained.
On the boat, Georgina reassures Eilis about living in America: sometimes it's nice to talk to people who don't know your auntie. Near the end of the film Eilis is inadvertently saved from making a bad mistake, because awful Miss Kelly knows the auntie of an Irish girl who saw her getting married to Tony at City Hall.