Time: 90 mins.
Won Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Nominations for Best Actress (Dench) and Supporting Actress (Winslet).
Not being familiar with the details of Iris Murdoch's life, I was excited to learn more about this British literary icon. The casting of Dame Judi Dench and Kate Winslet, as Murdoch's older and younger selves, made me even more so. Though these wonderfully talented ladies, and their male costars Jim Broadbent and Hugh Bonneville, give miraculous performances, the essence of Iris is never clearly defined. It's rare to encounter a film that needs to be longer, but this is one of them. The focus of the tale is on the relationship between Iris and her husband John Bayley, how they met, married and are dealing, in the twilight of their years, with her encroaching Alzheimers. What's missing is her talent. The film touches on her brilliance with the written word and her views of personal freedom, but it's just not enough to illuminate why she became the sensation that she did. Why her being struck with Alzheimers is so much worse than anyone else.
As a story about the triumph of love to overcome any obstacle, this film works quite well. Broadbent gives a heartbreaking performance as a man struggling to hold onto the spirit of the woman he fell in love with. Once her mind is gone, he's left with aching doubts about their relationship, wondering whether he ever truly knew this secretive and dynamic woman at all. The intercutting flashbacks play like memories, giving a peak into the past when these events were initially unfolding, revealing the truth behind the answers the characters are seeking. These brief glances are vibrant and compelling, creating a world that seems fresh and alive, instead of distant and old. Since Iris' deterioration begins rather quickly, it's in the past that we get the best sense of who she is and what the disease is doing to her. Winslet and Dench are two sides of a coin. Inseparable, yet distinct. There's never any doubt they are embodying the same person.