When you go to see a movie it helps if you know a little bit about the subject. For example if you see a James Bond film it helps if you know that he is British and against the Russians – or whatever. It's the same with this film – it helps if you know about James Joyce and helps even more if you know about Ulysses which the movie has been adapted from. The book has many themes and it's a book where the words are very important – not the plot; so the director has made the words important to this movie.
One of the most famous passages in Ulysses is Molly Bloom's Penelope soliloquy at the end of the book. It starts on page 659 and ends on page 704 – it is one long stream of consciousness sentence with no punctuation and only gaps for paragraphs; it takes in many images and history of the characters. In this film the director, Sean Walsh, starts with this soliloquy and during it he cuts to various memories of her loving 'Poldy' – Leopold Bloom - in good times and to her sexual exploits with the current beau Blazes Boylan. This works very well and the music, 'Love's Old Sweet Song,' matches underneath the soliloquy perfectly. Ulysses, apart from being written in many styles of other writers of the time, has parts which are dedicated to the human body, parts which are dedicated to colours and parts which are dedicated to music and one of the most memorable pieces of music, which goes with the stunning cinematography by Ciarán Tanham, is the aforementioned 'Love's Old Sweet Song'; this music sets the mood for the whole film.
The soliloquy is used throughout the film as a counter commentary to the innermost thoughts of her husband, Bloom. He knows what she is doing back at their house in Eccles Street with Blazes Boylan, who is supposed to be there to arrange a concert tour, so he stays out of the way and goes on his famous wander around Dublin with the text being spoken in voice over as he observes his day, on June 16th 1904, as it has been his day, Bloomsday, ever since.
Ulysses is what you might describe as an epic novel. Other adaptations of epic novels, such as East of Eden, concentrate on a certain section of the book. This film doesn't do that. There will be those who might think this film tries to do too much but I don't think so; I think it does enough. It gives you a smattering of what Ulysses is about and if you have never read it this film will give you a good start; a kind of Cliff's Notes on film.
I first heard Stephen Rea play Stephen Dedalus on BBC radio and here he is coming full circle and playing Bloom. A little less rotund than one has imagined Bloom to be but perfectly cast nonetheless and very intelligently played - as is Molly Bloom by the voluptuous Angeline Ball – hasn't she come on since her debut in 'The Commitments' and why don't we see more of her?
Usually it's very hard to get anything by James Joyce produced as the rights to his works are owned by his grandson Stephen. But I believe this film was started when James Joyce's works were in public domain before the law changed. We are very lucky that a director like Sean Walsh came along when he did and made such a beautiful film. I think he was governed by the budget in a good way as I dread to think what a Hollywood Studio would have done with a massive budget.
As I mentioned this took place on June 16th 1904 and on that day the winner of the gold cup was a horse called 'Throwaway' and when Bloom inadvertently tips the winner we can see that the jockey on the horse is a certain Mr Sean Walsh.
The reason why this story is set on June 16th 1904 is because that was the day James Joyce first walked out with his beloved Nora Barnacle. As Sean Walsh took a little licence over the end credits with Bloom wandering around modern Dublin might it have been more fitting as this was a film to have a glimpse of James Joyce and Nora walking together on that fateful day?
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