They say all great artists need a muse. Even James Joyce, whose talent seemed to be heaven-sent, apparently found fuel and inspiration in the earthly form of a woman, specifically Nora Barnacle. With a muse with a name like that, it's amazing Joyce wrote more than a parking ticket.
Nora is a labour of love for all concerned, not least writer/director Pat Murphy, who admits to being fascinated by Joyce ever since she read his books as a child. Ewan McGregor, meanwhile, attached himself to the project soon after his Trainspotting success, with his company, Natural Nylon, producing. Given such passion and talented actors like McGregor and the fiery Susan Lynch, this little-known true story (based on the biography by Brenda Maddox) really should have been compelling. Sadly, it's as hard to watch as it is to read Joyce's Ulysses - - but less rewarding.
The film restricts itself to the first 10 years of a 35-year relationship, in which Joyce struggled towards the publication of The Dubliners and his acceptance as a writer.
Why the pair got together in the first place is anyone's guess and the two leads flesh out their differences with painful aplomb. Showing little of his familiar cheeky chappy persona, McGregor is wan, intense, jealous and an intellectual snob; the pre-Raphaelite-styled Lynch passionate, guileless and devoted. Only in the steamy sex scenes is there any kind of equality.
It's ironic that in a drama about a literary genius, the sexual encounters involve the most energy. But this is symptomatic of Nora's biggest flaw: that there's no sense of Joyce's lyrical, vibrant, anarchic writing. Just of a self-indulgent lad swanning around like Dirk Bogarde in Death In Venice, waiting for this downbeat, repetitive Euro-pudding of a film to end.
After the pop-up performance required by Phantom Menace, Ewan McGregor desperately needed a movie which packed some artistic punch. He certainly reminds us that he's an actor, not just a movie star, but Nora still isn't much of a showcase.