Dir: Pat Murphy. Ire-UK-It-Ger. 2000. 106mins.
Prod cos: A Natural Nylon Prod. Volta/Metropolitan Films, Gam Film, Road Movies. Int'l Sales: IAC Films. Exec Prod: Guy Collins. Prods: Bradley Adams, Damon Bryant, Tracey Seaward. Co-Prods: Ewan McGregor, James Flynn, Ulrich Felsberg, Gerhardo Pagliei. Scr: Murphy, Gerard Stembridge based on the biography by Brenda Maddox. DoP: Jean Francois Robin. Prod des: Alan MacDonald. Ed: Pia Di Ciaula. Music: Stanislas Syrewicz. Main cast: Susan Lynch, Ewan McGregor, Peter McDonald, Roberto Citran, Darragh Kelly, Alan Devine.
Pat Murphy's long-cherished project is a sensual and sympathetic treatment of the early relationship between Nora Barnacle and writer James Joyce, a relationship fuelled in equal measure by sexual hunger and jealousy, separation, and poverty.
Murphy's film eschews the self-conscious excesses which often bury biopics of famous artists because she wisely limits herself to the couple's time in Dublin and Trieste in the years between 1904 and 1914, when Joyce was largely unknown and his first collection of stories, 'Dubliners', had yet to be published. Because the film is concerned with character rather than milieu it is closer in tone to, say, Ken Russell's Savage Messiah than it is to Alan Rudolph's The Moderns, two films with which it bears some comparison.
Murphy and Stembridge's script draws its emotional centre from autobiographical elements in Joyce's story 'The Dead', which some audiences will know from John Huston's adaptation. There is a revelatory moment common to both films which centres on the singing of a traditional song, Nora Barnacle's recollection of an early love in the West of Ireland, and Joyce's contradictory reactions as man and artist.
On occasion the film shows signs of its maker's fifteen year absence from the director's chair - in problematic transitional sequences and in an arguably too sympathetic portrayal of the central character. But, with the drawing power of Ewan McGregor as Joyce, a career-making turn in the title role from Susan Lynch, and in its faultless art direction and costumes, Nora should do well on the festival circuit before doing solid arthouse business at home and abroad.