Iris

"Very Good"

Iris Review


Kate Winslet and Judi Dench give wondrously in-sync performances as the young and the old Iris Murdoch in "Iris," an inspired, invoking and inventive biography of one of Britain's premiere 20th Century authors.

With seemingly little effort, both actresses bear a remarkable resemblance to their character in her various stages of life -- as do the two actors (Hugh Bonneville and Jim Broadbent, respectively) who play Murdoch's fidgety and unstrung but unconditionally devoted husband, John Bayley.

But it's the way they play two ends of the same psyche, and the way director Richard Eyre ties those two ends inexorably together with interwoven parallel narratives, that makes this film transcend the biopic genre.

Using the technique to bind two eras and two performances to each other, Eyre opens the narrative with twin scenes of Murdoch and Bayley at a countryside swimming hole in both the 1950s and the 1990s. The scene is brilliant in its simplicity, speaking volumes about the consistency of modest joys in Murdoch's life while immediately presenting the audience with an intimate and inviting emotional hook.

Winslet and Dench both glow with their subject's enthusiastic pedantry, confidence and unaffected femininity (Murdoch dressed very ladylike but rarely did anything with her makeup and rather unkempt hair). The movie is a story of love sprung from intellect, and there is a uniformly artless romantic magic between these two actresses and their respective co-stars -- not a soft-focus melodrama affair, but simply two eccentrics awkwardly, warmly in love.

"Perhaps it's time we made love," is Iris's clumsy idea of seduction. "If we were married, we could be doing this nearly all the time," is John's way of proposing, post coitus.

"Iris" is adapted from Bayley's biography of his wife, and Eyre infuses the film with the man's undying adoration and compassion for his wife without getting sappy or maudlin -- even after Murdoch's zealously sharp and insatiably philosophical mind becomes tragically ravaged by the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

The picture's two-track storytelling becomes intentionally, compassionately and symbolically fragmented with the onset of the affliction, which Dench plays so very realistically. Murdoch's dispirited and immense frustration is clouded but discernible behind her gradually withdrawing, scared and childlike eyes. As her mind begins to degenerate, Dench does a beautiful job of showing that frustration and desperation before it becomes trapped behind those eyes.

"I feel as if I'm sailing into darkness," She says as she writes feverishly to finish one last book before it's too late.

However, it's Broadbent's turn as Bayley that is the picture's pivotal performance. He captures with amazing grace the tenderness that keeps Bayley going as Murdoch's faithful caretaker, even as his heart is breaking and his own frustration is boiling over. John and Iris fell in love with each other's minds, and while the love remains, he knows every time he looks at her that the intellectual sparks that gave birth to it are gone forever.

As the young John Bayley, Bonneville ("Mansfield Park," "Notting Hill") is extraordinary as well. Not only does he make the bookish, nervous young academic a sympathetic and appealing figure, but he recreates Broadbent's physical mannerisms with such precision that you can't help but wonder at times if he isn't Broadbent made up to look 40 years younger somehow.

The one area in which "Iris" lets the audience down is in not delving more deeply into Murdoch's writing. I knew almost nothing about her as an author before the movie, and while I feel I got to know her as a person, the only information of note I learned about her novels is that they "embrace freedom and love" -- or so she says in an interview in one of Dench's early scenes.



Iris

Facts and Figures

Run time: 91 mins

In Theaters: Friday 18th January 2002

Box Office USA: $5.4M

Distributed by: Miramax Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Fresh: 86 Rotten: 23

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Contactmusic


Links


Advertisement

New Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.