James Joyce's Women  (1985) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

James Joyce's Ulysses, in addition to being considered the greatest work of 20th century literature, is also considered the most controversial. The court battles and censorship struggles of this book rival any in history, including The Origin of Species and Newton's In Principia. Excluding scientific works, Ulysses may be the single most condemned book, since the controversy over its publication easily eclipsed the furor over Lolita or any of D.H. Lawrence's books. Molly Bloom's masturbatory reverie is often cited as the most erotic passage in all of literature, the unedited stream of one woman's consciousness while she brings herself to climax.

How, then, can such a work be brought to the screen accurately?

Fionnula Flanagan, a classical actress proud of her country's literary heritage, decided that the only way to do it right was to do it herself.

She wrote and produced this film about six women in James Joyce's life: three fictional characters plus his wife, his benefactress and his publisher. Her involvement didn't stop there. Fionnula wanted to represent the Joycean universe correctly, so she played all six characters herself, and delivered close to 90% of the spoken words in this film. It is more or less one of those "one woman shows".

Fionnula did not shy away from the controversial parts of Ulysses. Quite to the contrary, she went right after the juiciest in-your-face material. The centerpiece of the film is Molly's masturbation, the filmed version of which must occupy about 20 uninterrupted minutes of screen time. The entire scene, including finger-to-genital contact, is pictured on camera. This is an extraordinary moment in cinema, because the naked woman playing with her privates in front of you is not a B-movie starlet, a stripper, a porno star, or a fading movie queen making a final grasp for attention, but a legitimate classical actress, ala Dame Edith Evans or Meryl Streep. Since she is an excellent actress and a natural looking woman, the scene creates the impression that we are actually watching a woman masturbate, and that she is unaware of our presence.

As you can deduce from the above, this is the type of film that will be considered a great treasure by a very small percentage of the population, and will also be viewed by some others curious about the masturbation scene. Those who are studying Joyce will find this film very useful to make the great writer more accessible, and to understand the context of the society he wrote about. For the great majority of film audiences, this is simply a static, highly literary film which is fundamentally a long series of monologues. Most people will find those monologues as dull as dishwater, despite the sexual charge they contain.


No DVD available. The information to the left is for the North American VHS. Back in 1999, I tracked down "James Joyce's Women" in the pre-viewed bargain bin at Blockbuster for $2.99. At that time, it was not available on DVD. I am writing this six years later, and it is still not on DVD. Worse still, the VHS was never priced for retail sales, so it costs about $70 new, although you can find it for as little as $25 from people who have stock to liquidate.



  • Fionnula Flanagan masturbates on camera in real time. She is lying on her back, exposing her breasts and genitals.

The Critics Vote ...

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The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C.

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