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Iris

Starring Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent; Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville
Screenplay by Richard Eyre and Charles Wood
based on two books by John Bayley
Directed by Richard Eyre
no website

IN SHORT: Magnificent performances in a truly touching film, with one non-critical caveat... [Rated R for sexuality/nudity and some language. ]

There are movies and there are films. Many who set out to "make significant film" lose sight of the fact that films start as movies. Without a good story or characters the viewing audience is saddled with pretentious garbage, most of which pathetically pleads for Oscar notice at this time of year.

Then there is writer/director Richard Eyre's Iris, which is what a great movie must be to become a "great film".

If you've lost a family member to senility or Alzheimer's disease, you already know the helplessness and emotional pain that comes with watching someone you love with all your heart (essentially) vanish in front of your eyes. The first bouts of forgetfulness are a given as part of the natural aging process. By the time full fledged senility kicks in, the victim is the lucky one because they are no longer aware of what is happening. Then it's ten years sitting in a chair staring out the window (our grandfather) or two years in a nursing home (our grandmother) before the final release. Those of us that stay behind lock that pain away and bury it as deep as possible.

We're warning you in advance about Iris, a film that delivers about as true and pure a love story as you can get, and shredded us in our seat. We were teens when Love Story came out, which may be why we remember that film as manipulative crap. The stars of Iris, Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent, are old enough that we don't expect a lot of teen fans to come pounding at the box office. For those old enough to have faced, or had their lives touched by, the Reaper more than a couple of times, Iris is a film that cannot fail to affect.

The only weakness in Richard Eyre's film comes in its beginning. Two stories intercut here, one of a blossoming love between an Oxford University student and budding novelist named Iris Murdoch (Kate Winslet) and a university lecturer, John Bayley (Hugh Bonneville); the second of the latter years of the now-renowned author Iris (Judi Dench) and her literary critic husband John (Jim Broadbent). On this page, in black and white, there is no confusion as to the facts of who is who and what is what. Visually, we remind you that any couple, after forty years in the same house, will have become pretty set in their ways. The look of the latter couple, all neat and Fifties tidy, varies so little from our conception of the chronological neat and tidy Fifties that it took a sudden shock to bring us to our senses -- Iris going into London for a BBC Television interview. Only then did we realize that this couple was living in a (relatively) modern time.

It's a minor gripe. The greater compliment to Eyre's work is that we had no idea that Murdoch and Bayley were real people. Readers in the UK already know this fact. For Americans, like us, who may not, it is enough that all four actors build such great characters that they fully "live" in the place that they are supposed to -- on the big screen and, by extension, in our hearts and minds. The knowledge that these characters are/were real makes the tragedy even greater.

Young John Bayley fairly staggers under the weight of love at first sight and, as the his courtship of Iris Murdoch stumbles forward, discovers all sorts of things about the politically and sexually free spirited Iris that would put a crimp in other relationships. For her part, Iris has just penned her first novel, which she has allowed no one to read, and is anxious about a potential career. Flash forward to the late nineties: the marriage is as solid as a rock and Iris' career has proved to be very successful, with 26 novels and additional philosophical treatises published. John continues to lecture and teach, tremendously proud of his wife's success.

For her part, Iris is aware that realizes "something" is wrong -- beautifully visualized in the film by a piece of paper on which she has tried to spell the word "puzzled". During a publicity jaunt into London for an interview with the BBC, she loses her train of thought live on telly. Even worse, she has no idea why she is in London! Later, back in Oxford, the postman brings a special delivery package containing the first printings of her latest novel. Iris doesn't recognize the book and doesn't connect the name on the cover with her own. By the time the doctor's confirm that there are brain problems, it's too late to do anything. Not that anything could be done. From this point on, John struggles to guard and protect the woman he loves for as long as possible, even as the screenplay offers up a terrifying notion about John's ability to cope with his wife's degeneration. That is all that you need to know.

Judi Dench delivers the four-star performance that she always does and is matched step for step by Jim Broadbent. Both actors make our short list for end of the year considerations -- in a film that is only going to see a week's worth of screentime this year, due to the marketing machinations that come about in the Quest for Oscar. If you're outside of the major markets, you'll have to wait until February 2002 to see this gem.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Iris, he would have paid . . .

$8.00

With the emphasis on the endgame, it may look disrespectful to complement Winslet and Bonneville for providing the background elements that they do. That is their job and they do it well.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.