Nora Review

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Adapted from Brenda Maddox' biography of Nora, the mistress and muse of novelist James Joyce.


One of the great literary love affairs of the 20th century began in 1904, when 22 year-old budding literary genius, James Joyce, saw chambermaid Nora Barnacle in a Dublin street and was instantly smitten. It was a relationship that would endure until his death at 59, defying convention and class, weathering poverty, his obsessive jealously, and her disquiet at having their intimacies transmuted into his work.

Pat Murphy's fancy dress biopic, scenically shot in Dublin, Hamburg and Trieste, is adapted from Brenda Maddox' biography of Nora, the mistress and muse who was far from Joyce's intellectual equal - who the heck was? - but evidently made a man of him. If this telling is to be believed, the two lived in Italian exile on thin air and red wine, but still managed to dress fabulously in pastel linen, fetching underwear and superb hats, and had such rampant sex it's a wonder Jim could muster the energy to write. If - admittedly it's unlikely - there are any Joyceans who are prissy, they could be in for a shock at the explicit language and couplings, not to mention the perverse compulsions in this portrait of the artist as a young man.

This Joyce is a role that plays to McGregor's strength, a contradictory, intense character whose seething intellect, self-belief and agonising renders him disarming despite the cruel and strange workings of a hectic imagination. Lynch, seizing a rare opportunity for an Irish actress to explore a woman free of the usual oppression baggage, brings great passion and unselfconscious, earthy sexuality to feisty Nora. The couple emerge as feckless, reckless, but brave - and interestingly, messily modern.

Pat Murphy emphasises feelings rather than art or history in a satisfying true-life romance.