A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man (1977) 




Director:  Joseph Strick.

Starring:   Bosco Hogan (Stephen Dedalus), T.P. McKenna (Simon Dedalus), John Gielgud (The Preacher), Rosaleen Linehan (May Dedalus), Maureen Potter (Dante), Niall Buggy (Davin), Brian Murray (Lynch), Desmond Cave (Cranly), Leslie Lalor (Milly), Desmond Perry (Casey), Susan Fitzgerald (Emma), Luke Johnston (Stephen, age ten), Danny Figgis (Wells), Cecil Sheehan (Uncle Charles), Brendan Cauldwell (Father Michael).

based on the youth of Irish author James Joyce of Dublin


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Ireland 1885.  The country is under the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant national supported by the Catholic majority. 

His mother tell her son Stephen Dedalus when you wet the bed, apologize.

1891.  Parnell has fallen from power because he got into a divorce proceeding with his secret lover Mrs. Kitty O'Shea.  Parnell was vilified and abandoned by most of his supporters and forced from politics in disgrace.  For the time, the independence movement is badly damaged. 

His parents drop Stephen off at a boarding school.  Dad says to write him if he (Stephen) needs him. A boy wants to swap a chestnut for Stephen's tin box.  When Stephen refuses, the boy pushes him into a ditch filled with water.  Stephen hears the priests talk about the death of Parnell. 

Stephen heads for home for Christmas break.  His mother tells him that they missed him.  At Christmas dinner the topic of conversation revolves around Parnell and the priests.  Dad takes the position that priests should keep out of politics.  He asks why they had to give up on Parnell and calls those who turned on him when he was down sons of bitches.

Mrs. Reardon is very upset by this kind of talk.  She says: "I will defend my church and religion."  She holds that the priests were right to speak out against Parnell.  Dinner guest John says that he spit tobacco into the eye of a lady who called Kitty O'Shea a very bad name.  Dad describes the Irish as an unfortunate priest-ridden race.  When Dad says if they have to have priests, it would be better to have no God in Ireland, Mrs. Reardon leaves. 

Back at boarding school, Stephen has both lenses of his glasses horribly broken.  Father Dolan comes into class asking the teacher if anyone in the class needs a flogging.  He whips each hand of one boy for being a "born idler".  He then asks Stephen why he is not writing like the rest of the students.  Stephen tells him that his glasses are broken.  Father Dolan calls him a "lazy, little schemer".  "I know that old trick."  He then smacks Stephen's two hands.  After class Stephen goes to complain to the rector.  He tells the rector that the teacher exempted him from work until he got new glasses.  The rector finally agrees to speak to Father Dolan.  That cheers up Stephen. 

Stephen is called out of class.  His dad is taking him out of school because it is just too expensive.  Dad tells his son:  "I have enemies, Stephen."  The family has to move to a smaller home. 

Much later.  Stephen is now of college age.  His father is bankrupt.  Father and son take the train into town where they attend the auction of most of their possessions. 

Stephen attends Belvedere College, S. J.  He wins the National Essay Class.  Stephen looks at some racy French postcards and starts visiting prostitutes.  Attending a sermon one day, the father speaks ad nausea about the terrors of hell for the sinners.  Stephen starts feeling concerned for his many sins and goes to confession.  He has had lascivious thoughts and done impure things.  And yes, he is willing to repent. 

A priest talks to Stephen about joining the order.  Stephen thinks about it, but when he sees a gorgeous woman down by the sea, he knows the priesthood is not for him. 

At home his mother tells him that college has changed him.  A friend tells him:  "You're a born sneerer, Stevie."  Stephen is cynical about the Irish independence movement.  The friend asks him:  "Are you Irish a' tall?"  Stephen responds by saying that Ireland always betrays their great heroes.  The friend responds:  "Ireland first, Stevie."

Stephen has the beginnings of a girlfriend in the auburn haired Emma.  But he scares her off by talking about having sex with her too soon.  

Then there are a couple of talks with friends that are too wordy and boring.  He gets upset over having a quarrel with his mother about religion.  Stephen tells a friend that he has lost the faith.  He thinks he will go away:  "I have to go."  He has written for the reviews and gotten paid for them. 

He packs up his bags and heads for the coast.  He takes a boat and leaves Ireland. 


Pretty good movie.  I would have liked it a lot better if they had avoided those boring and stupid philosophizing sessions between Stephen and some friends.  Otherwise the movie was holding my interest.  I fast-forwarded the boring talk sections.  Ireland was just too provincial and boring, and dominated too much by religion and politics,  for a brilliant young man who wanted bigger challenges and opportunities.  He felt trapped and had to get away.  And so he says good-bye to Ireland, at least for awhile. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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