If most people were asked what the greatest book of the twentieth century was, two works are most likely to be mentioned. The first is the obvious choice of Lord of the Rings, which has, of course, been extensively discussed elsewhere. However, the other book, which is a more obviously 'literary' choice, and yet revolutionalised the novel as we know it today, was James Joyce's Ulysses, a book that is almost impossible to describe beyond an over-simplified plot synopsis. Of course, it has been argued by critics that Ulysses and Joyce's earlier work, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, were extensively autobiographical; however, a theory that has been gaining credence in recent years is that Joyce's wife, Nora Barnacle, was in large part responsible for inspiring him to write. This led to Brenda Maddox's biography of her, which in turn led to Pat Murphy's film about Joyce and Nora, which is an intelligent, literate but rather dull biopic which does surprisingly little to illuminate a fascinating relationship.
The film covers a fairly large part of Joyce and Nora's life together, stretching as it does from June 10th 1904 (the date on which the novel Ulysses was set), when they first met, through their tempestuous relationship, and ending just before Dubliners was published, as Joyce left Ireland for Paris, never to return. Most of the cliches of the love story are explored, albeit with some more interesting detours into the world of Joyce than the average Hollywood 'product' might well have come up with. Unfortunately, this is a film about Nora, not Joyce, and so fails to fully explore the potential of such a fruitful artistic period in his life.
Individual scenes throughout the film are fine; McGregor and Lynch are both excellent, with his early naivety and youthful enthusiasm seeming to darken into bitter cynicism and suspicion, while she evolves from an equally naive young girl into an intelligent and mature woman. Throughout the film, this journey is traced with intelligence and sophistication. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that it is especially interesting to watch; ultimately, there is too little attention paid to what made Joyce and Nora so unique as a couple. Of course, the argument might be made that they were not that unique a couple as people in themselves, but that they were defined by Joyce's writing and her influence; however, such a proposition would mean that the prospect of watching a film about two people falling in and out of love is hardly going to set the world on fire.
In one of the DVD's supplements, Pat Murphy mentions that she was interested in Joyce, but that his work has always tended to be 'unfilmable'. Certainly, Ulysses would present an incredible challenge to any director- although not an insurmountable one- but John Huston's excellent film of The Dead is a fine indication of how Joyce's prose might be turned into cinema (which, pleasingly, the film looks at Joyce's interest in), and it's something of a shame that the film's failure at the box office means that Joyce is unlikely to be regarded as commercially viable in the near future. Not a failure by any means, then, but nor is it the definitive film about either Joyce or Nora.
For some odd reason, Momentum have decided to present the film in non-anamorphic widescreen; given that all their other releases have been presented in anamorphic, this seems like a strange blip. To be fair, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the presentation, and the omission of anamorphic enhancement is only really noticeable in some of the lighter scenes, where shimmering is clearly visible; all the same, this is still a bizarre decision on their part.
A fairly unexciting but perfectly serviceable stereo track is provided, which keeps the dialogue and score perfectly audible without doing anything especially interesting with any sound effects; of course, this isn't the sort of film that calls for a sonic extravaganza.
Some fairly interesting interviews with McGregor, Lynch and Murphy are provided; thankfully steering clear of the 'I play' syndrome, they discuss the film's genesis, artistic decisions made and Joyce's role in Ireland. The only drawback are that they only last around 12 minutes in total. The other extras are a fairly standard trailer and some dull-as-ditchwater behind the scenes footage; is there anyone who really wants to watch people standing around doing nothing in between takes??
A decently made but rather unexciting literary biopic is presented on an undistinguished disc with negligible extras. The only real plus point is that this has been released in Momentum's budget range at £9.99, which may persuade anyone interested in Joyce to consider this worth watching, if nothing else.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 18:00:05