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Posts Tagged ‘Iris’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 21st February 2002:

And now for something a little different [this followed a review of Ocean’s Eleven – A]. Richard Eyre’s Iris is the story of the last years of the brilliant philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, based on the book by her husband John Bayley. As the film opens Iris and John (played by Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent) are living in cosy, if slightly decrepit domesticity. Both are noted academics, and they seem completely happy with their lives. And then Iris begins to unknowingly repeat herself. Her latest book becomes a struggle to write. She finds it impossible to hold onto her train of thought in an interview. Medical tests reveal the truth: she has Alzheimer’s disease, and the dissolution of her intellect will be gradual but implacable.

Intercut with this is a series of flashbacks to the romance of the couple in the 1950s – here Iris is played by Kate Winslet and John by Hugh Bonneville. It provides a real insight into the foundation of their relationship, and a poignant counterpoint to Iris’ later decline.

Iris has an intelligent, subtle script but its success, which is considerable, depends entirely on two devastatingly powerful performances by Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent. Dench flawlessly suggests the horror of a philosopher losing her ability to think, and later on is painfully convincing as an Alzheimer’s sufferer. But it’s Broadbent who in many ways carries the film, and it’s John’s story as much as it is Iris’. He is staggeringly good and deserves to win every award he’s nominated for (and he’s been nominated for quite a few). They are backed up by Winslet and Bonneville who are very nearly as good playing the younger versions – it’s utterly believable that these two will grow up to be the older couple.

I could object to the way the film suggests that Alzheimer’s is somehow more of a tragedy when it happens to a great mind – it’s always a tragedy, full stop. Or to the way it suggests that Iris Murdoch’s decline and death was somehow the most notable part of her life, when the exact opposite is the case. But these are objections to the film’s conception, rather than its execution. Iris is profoundly moving, extremely powerful drama, and I might suggest – and I hope not to have to make this recommendation too often! – that you take a hankie along with you if you go. It’s that good a film.

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