But as I thought about the film, I realized just how eminently forgettable it is. Not only is it thin on plot, the narrative structure - with multiple flashbacks and half-scenes - actually detracts from the dramatic impact of the story. Attention story-tellers of all ilks: this is how *not* to do fractured time. Just because Tarantino can make it work, doesn't mean everyone else can. Also, for a moment, the Dench/Broadbent storyline seems to echo A Beautiful Mind, and we are mercifully given a central, driving goal, but this is unfortunately abandoned, and more rousing violins play.
Thank heavens for Broadbent, who almost makes it all worth it.
True story of the lifelong romance between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, from their student days through her battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Heartbreaking true-life account biopic about acclaimed British author Iris Murdoch who succumbed to Alzheimer's disease. Dench and Winslet play Murdoch in her latter and early days respectively as well as Broadbent and Bonneville as her beloved husband and colleague in literature John Bayley (all by the way superb and effortless in their transitions onscreen uncannily echoing each other). Based on Bayley's books about his late, great wife and the downward spiral that was cruelly ironic for such a woman of wit and talent.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Director and Screenwriter of Iris, Richard Eyre, states during the special features DVD Commentary that one cannot understand the enormity of the loss to Alzheimer's of the protagonist, novelist Iris Murdoch, without appreciating what was lost. So he divides the story of Iris into the present day narrative of her deterioration due to Alzheimer's and flashbacks to the courtship and eventual marriage of the younger Iris (played by Kate Winslet) to Professor John Bayley back in the 1950s. The young Bayley is played by Hugh Bonneville who bears a striking resemblance to Jim Broadbent, who plays the elderly Bayley opposite Judi Dench as the now afflicted elderly Iris.
Because Eyre approaches Murdoch as a virtual seminal figure in the history of world literature, the flashback scenes add up to nothing much more than a hagiography. While the contrast between the two personalities, the mercurial, flirtatious Iris and bookish academician Baley should lead to some gripping tension, in the end there is scant conflict between the two. Yes, Iris's voluminous affairs are alluded to and there is one scene where she and Bayley have a protracted argument regarding those affairs, in the end however, there is little we learn that is interesting about the earlier relationship. While Eyre has the benefit of Bayley's recent recollections concerning the extent and scope of Iris's deterioration, the flashbacks are obviously based on distant memories of the relationship. In short, I don't believe that Eyre has made his case that there was a great 'loss' based on his portrait of the early Iris. As a young woman she flirted and had affairs with other men; eventually she matured and was a nurturing presence in not-so-confident John Bayley's life. Eyre's flashbacks are photographed quite nicely and the setting evokes the bygone era of the 50s. But I still want to know what is so special about Iris Murdoch. I might find that out reading her books, but it certainly is not conveyed here in this film.
Eyre is on much more solid in ground the retelling of Murdoch's decline in more recent times. Judi Dench is excellent (as usual) as a woman who gradually deteriorates due to the ravages of Alzheimer's. The decline is subtle at the beginning as we see Dench struggle with language. Later, in a memorable scene, she is unable to recall the name of the then current British Prime Minister, Tony Blair (but remembers it later). When her novel arrives in the mail, she shows no awareness that she's the author and is more perturbed by the presence of the mailman ("it's only the postman"). More harrowing scenes follow: as she deteriorates further, she wanders out of the house, only to be found hours later by a former friend who attended their wedding (and who Bayley fails to recognize!); upon being told of the death of a close friend, Iris freaks out, grabs the wheel of the car Bayley is driving which results in an accident?she's thrown from the car but ends up lying in the woods on the side of the road, virtually uninjured.
Jim Broadbent received the best supporting Oscar for his performance in Iris and it's well deserved. At first Bayley is in denial about Iris's condition. He continues to treat her as if she's normal. In a classic study of the stages of grief, Bayley (a suppressed character to begin with) finally lets out his frustration and anger as Iris's condition takes a turn for the worse. Eventually there's acceptance, despite Iris's complete loss of memory. At the end, Bayley is forced to put Iris in a home but is right there with her as she passes on.
Iris is a graceful and beautifully photographed film. While the examination of Iris and John Baley's early relationship is superficial, the chronicle of Iris's sad decline is a textbook study of what happens to people when they end up afflicted with Alzheimer's. What's more, Broadbent and Dench, convey the intimate bond between the two characters despite the overwhelmingly trying circumstances.