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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
Writer's lives are always a difficult subject for the screen, and even with the wealth of biographical and autobiographical material about James Joyce, he remains no exception. This movie, concentrating on the early part of his relationship with the humorously-monikered Nora barnacle makes a reasonable enough attempt to bring cinematic life to this complex and enigmatic figure.
Ewan McGregor, in the role of Joyce is sometimes a bit too young and sexy to convey his subjects brooding, promethean intensity, but he's certainly more convincing than Bosco Hogan in Joseph Strick's Portrait of an artist. The real star of the film is Susan Lynch, whose earthy sexuality convinces us that she could develop into the Molly Bloom of Ulysses. There's also good support from the actor playing Joyce's more level-headed brother and soi-disant "keeper", Stanislaus.
The movie is often affected by the exaggerated Irishness that seems to blight every movie set in the island, but it doesn't get in the way of the film's verisimilitude too much, with one exception. When Joyce's brother takes his book to an Irish publisher, he is told that "there's something dirty going on" in "The Dead" and this is presented as a uniquely Irish reaction, though in reality Joyce had the same reaction everywhere.
The film is also punctuated by subtle allusions to Joyces work that literati will enjoy picking up, but won't alienate those poor hordes of non-Joyceans too much. At the risk of sounding like a swotty pedant, there's a lot of profane language in the movie, which Joyce maintained he never used in speech, though it serves, if anything to increase the characters' believability.
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