Iris (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner22/01/2002

Four out of five stars
Running time: 91 mins

Brilliantly acted, well directed and mercifully short for a biopic – this is certain to pick up a number of Oscar nods come March.

Acclaimed British theatre director Richard Eyre’s biopic of novelist Iris Murdoch is adapted from her husband John Bayley’s two memoirs of her life.

Sensibly, Eyre chooses to flip between two separate time-periods, allowing for the contrast of Kate Winslet’s light-hearted, occasionally comic and frequently naked scenes of the younger, free-spirited, sexually liberated Iris with Judi Dench’s more sombre 1990s-set scenes as the older Iris struggling with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The film also chooses to concentrate on her relationship with Bayley, played brilliantly by both Hugh Bonneville in the early scenes and Jim Broadbent in the later scenes. In fact, all four performances are Oscar-worthy, though Dench is the standout and it will most likely be both her and Broadbent who find themselves nominated come March.

It’s fair to say that the film is less a traditional biopic (we learn next to nothing of her work, for example) and more of a portrait of the relationship between Iris and Bayley.

However, anyone unfamiliar with Iris Murdoch’s life is still going to come away from the film with some pretty major gaps to be filled, such as the question of why they never had children, or how they ended up actually marrying in the first place (especially given Iris’s apparent commitment to unconventionality) and this is the film’s main flaw.

Still, the script is extremely well written, cleverly reflecting John and Iris’s bonding in their mutual love of language and word-games. It also allows for several moments of humour, even during the Alzheimer’s scenes, such as when Iris, panicked by hearing Tony Blair intone "Education, education, education" on television, asks "Why does he keep repeating that word over and over again?" However, the shower scene with Dench and Penelope Wilton was perhaps ill advised…

Thankfully, the film also, for the most part, avoids the Shadowlands-like descent into the three-hankie weepie territory one usually associates with disease-related biopics, though that’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of sad moments, only that sentimentality is more or less kept at bay.

In short, then, the film is brilliantly acted and succeeds in painting a convincing portrait of Iris and John’s relationship, despite leaving several gaps that, admittedly, might at least encourage people to find out more about her for themselves.

Worth watching then, particularly for the quartet of splendid performances. Recommended.

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Iris (15)
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Content updated: 21/10/2017 15:04

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