Iris, based on the life of revered British writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch, is a story of unlikely yet enduring love. As a young academic, teaching philosophy at Oxford, Murdoch meets and eventually falls in love with fellow professor John Bayley, a man whose awkwardness seems in stark opposition to the spirited self-confidence of his future wife. The story unfolds as snippets of time, seen through Bayley's eyes. He recalls their first encounter over 40 years ago, activities they enjoyed doing together, and Iris' charismatic and individualistic personality. These images portray Murdoch as a vibrant young woman with great intellect and are contrasted with the novelist's later life, after the effects of Alzheimer's disease have ravaged her. Murdoch's great mind deteriorates until she is reduced to a mere vestige of her former self, unable to perform simple tasks and completely reliant on her at times frustrated yet devoted husband. Written by
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Very difficult to put a life on screen but works very well as a look at Alzheimers
Iris Murdock was an author and a shining light within the literary community in England. As an older woman she holds the same enthusiasm but is gradually being given over to the effects of Alzheimers. Her husband, John, tries to cope watching his wife slip away while he remembers how things were when they were young and falling in love.
I knew of this film due to Broadbent rightly taking the Oscar for it (with an exclamation of `stone the crows!') but I noticed it wasn't really in the running for anything else and never got round to seeing it. Seeing it now I am in two minds as to whether it works or not - I think it depends on what you take the film's aim to be. As a story about Iris herself I didn't think it really worked. It told me very little about her and didn't give me much to work with in regards her character or her relations when she was younger. We are given images and scenes from Iris and John's youth but I never felt that I ever really connected with who they were at that young age. The stuff with them as an elderly couple works well but again it could have been any elderly couple and it made no difference to me that Iris was a writer or any woman.
What works excellent is the portrait of an elderly couple struggling with the effects of Alzheimer's on their lives - hers as a sufferer and his as one watching his wife vanish day by day. I was very moved by all of that side of the film and found some of it very hard to watch. Most of this is due to Broadbent and it is this that he won his Oscar for. I felt his pain throughout the film and it was intense considering what a normal cheerful old man he played. Dench is excellent and her portrayal of Iris is very strong in terms of being an Alzheimers sufferer but not so much as a character I'm meant to learn about. The playing of both Winslet and Bonneville is good but I came away with the feeling that they were just assigned to do impressions of their senior co-stars; they don't manage to shed light on the past very much but they are good background.
Overall this film is not great if you are expecting to learn about Iris the author. However a film about Alzheimers it excels and is well worth seeing. Broadbent is wonderful and deserved his Oscar - his pain and his loss is so very real throughout the film that it is impossible not to feel something even if the film doesn't manage to do great development with the characters.
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