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Sex and love. Some seek it, some need it, some spurn it and some pay for it, but we're all involved in it. Set on one afternoon on Hampstead Heath, London, the film investigates the minutiae of seven couples. What makes us tick?
In 1904, in Dublin, James Joyce chats up Nora Barnacle, a hotel maid recently come from Galway. She enchants him with her frank, direct and uninhibited manner, and before long, he's convinced her to come with him to Trieste, where he has a job with Berlitz. Over time, Nora pulls him through phobias, tolerates his drinking, takes in his brother Stan, and bests Joyce at 'the writin' game' to bring him back to Italy from Dublin where he's gone to open a cinema. But his sexual jealousy threatens the relationship and sends her back to Galway with the children. Is there any way to tame Jim's green-eyed monster? And, will the lad ever get his stories published? Written by
This is a beautiful film. Beautiful in the way it was directed, played and photographed.
Some of the photography, by cinematographer Jean-Francois Robin, could remind the viewer of the most famous of impressionist paintings of the time with couples strolling in the late afternoon fading sun in that magic hour of light when day is slowly but surely turning into night.
The story is essentially about Nora and we are introduced early on to the inspiration of the Michael Furey character from The Dead. This is shown in flashback, just as it is in the original story, as the physically bruised Nora Barnacle leaves Galway for Dublin after a beating from her father.
We are not sure just how far Nora's sexual experiences with the young man went but when she eventually meets James Joyce on that famous original Bloomsday of June 16th 1904, when the Ascot Gold Cup was being won by Throwaway, when Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus were wandering elsewhere around Dublin she does something so memorable and orgasmic to the genius Jim that it plants the seeds of jealousy in his mind that will haunt and taunt their relationship even to the point of James questioning whether their eldest child, Giorgio, is in fact his. If she did that to me she would do it to anybody is his reasoning.
There are some fine multi layered performances by the two leading characters, Ewan McGregor and Susan Lynch, who are ably supported by Peter McDonald as Jim's long suffering but supportive brother Stanny (Stanislaus). With one turn of the head and a slight look in the eye McGregor shows the character's insecurity with the relationship and the return look from Lynch lets him know, and the audience, that he is being unreasonable. Nora believes that James invents the situations to give him fuel for his stories but there is a growing torment of the young artist there with his displays of paranoia about Dublin, his fear of 'things with horns' and his child like panic when he is caught in a thunder storm. These three things and maybe his writing with its stream of consciousness tell us that this, indeed, is not a reasonable man.
There was hardly any mention, however, of the eye problems that James Joyce suffered from throughout his life. His fear of blindness, that he eventually almost reached, might have shown his urgency to get things down on paper. But this is such a small complaint in a wonderful movie so lovingly written and directed by Pat Murphy without one word of James Joyce being used in the script. There are a few little hints, which copyright cannot affect, when we see the few lines: 'Europe, The World, The Universe' which comes from 'A Portrait Of The Artist as a Young Man' and we see Nora save a manuscript from the fire. A manuscript that would be the first draft of 'Portrait' and which eventually saw the light of day as 'Stephen Hero.'
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