Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom/USA, 2001. British Broadcasting Corporation, Fox Iris Productions, Intermedia Films, , Miramax. Screenplay by Richard Eyre, Charles Wood, based on the books Iris: A Memoir and Elegy For Iris by John Bayley. Cinematography by Roger Pratt. Produced by Robert Fox, Scott Rudin. Music by James Horner. Production Design by Gemma Jackson. Costume Design by Ruth Myers. Film Editing by Martin Walsh. Academy Awards 2001. Golden Globe Awards 2001.
Exceptional performances from some of the best British actors out there are the life’s breath of this movie about late writer Iris Murdoch. Based on the biography by her loving widower John Bayley, the film goes back and forth between glimpses of the beginning of Murdoch’s relationship with Bayley (played by Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville), and their last years together when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (played by Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent). Richard Eyre wisely keeps directorial flourishes out of the way, avoiding fancy camera angles or artistic photography, instead creating a perfectly edited balance between past and present that ably follows the development of the love shared by these two wonderful people. As the young Murdoch, Winslet is brilliant, so assured and confident that even the single, straightforward glare that she gives Bayley while taking a drag on her cigarette says more than a fiery speech could. Dench is equally affecting as the aged writer, whom we watch go from philosopher and orator to mindless babbler in a matter of scenes. She’s so commanding as the sharp and precise professor that it is nothing but sheer heartbreak to later look into her eyes and see someone who is lost in a fog, and Dench brings this to life with alarming believability. Behind her is Broadbent’s kindly Bayley, a loving and understanding husband who reaches limits of his own when his dependent relationship with his passionate wife suddenly goes in the reverse direction. The screenplay could definitely afford to be more revealing of Murdoch’s work and inspiration, but the relationship viewed in this film is far too touching to really inspire any pointed criticism. Extremely moving and very memorable.