Iris


Directed by: Richard Eyre
Written by:Richard Eyre, Charles Wood
Starring: Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville, Samuel West
Released: January 31, 2002
Grade: A-

Dame Iris Murdoch was a brilliant English novelist who wrote about happiness, love and freedom.  With her first published in 1953 and her last published in 1995, Murdoch penned 26 books in all.  Directed by Richard Eyre, Iris is surprisingly not a story about her writings and only brief glimpses of her past are shown.  This is a story about her struggles with Alzheimer disease.

Her last book, Jackson’s Dilemma, was written as dementia set it and critics sensed something amiss.  One particular paragraph had the term “then suddenly” appear three times.  Following its publication, Murdoch’s mind began to fade fast and her devoted husband, Professor John Baley could no nothing to help her.  One of the world’s most radiant minds could no longer string a sentence together or recognise any face.  After years of struggle, Murdoch was placed in a home in Oxford where she died in 1999.

Alzheimer’s disease is a tragic condition that is perfectly depicted on screen in Iris.  It is estimated that 50% of all those over the age of 85 have some form of the disease.  It is important to remember that the disease is not a normal part of aging.

Oscar winner Judi Dench plays the pivotal role with an amazingly gut-wrenching performance.  Jim Broadbent won a Golden Globe last Sunday for his portrayal as her husband who tries to come to grips with the realisation that the woman he’s always loved now has the mind of a 3-year-old.  Short flashbacks from when the couple first met are creatively woven into the story but not enough is made of these scenes (a small weakness).  Kate Winslet plays the young Iris and Hugh Bonneville (who looks strikingly similar to Broadbent) plays the young John.

Dench, Broadbent and Winslet are all touted for Oscar noms next month but the film itself is receiving little other attention.  I guess the story’s quietness and simplicity has seen it swamped by other more “meaningful” releases.  Don’t be petered - it’s a touching emotional drama made more significant by the realisation that this is a true story.