Amazon Update No. 8: “Iris”

January 18, 2015



Having seen the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease up close — having lived with them actually, we don’t go out of our way to see the subject dramatized. The other night, however, we were glad we stumbled on Iris, a 2001 movie starring Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Bonneville. This film is based on the life of Iris Murdoch, a prominent British novelist and philosopher in the second half of the twentieth century. While she was a young woman teaching at Oxford, Murdoch fell in love with another Oxford academic, John Bayley, and eventually married him. It was what Puccini’s librettists might have called “a strange harmony of contrasts. Winslet was confident, high-spirited, articulate, and promiscuous, and Bayley was awkward, stuttering, shy, and virgin.


Their story, based on Bayley’s written accounts, is told in turns by flashbacks to the tumult of their early life together and a portrayal of the gradual deterioration of the elderly Iris’s mind. At the center of the story is John Bayley’s enduring love for this woman, even when her dementia frightens him and strains his patience. Dench and Winslet play the elder and younger Iris, and Broadbent and Bonneville play the elder and younger Bayley. This casting was inspired, because in both cases the premise that we are watching the same people at different stages of their lives is convincing. The quality of the performances is reflected by the fact that, among many accolades, Jim Broadbent won an Oscar and Judi Dench and Kate Winslet were nominated. Why Hugh Bonneville wasn’t nominated I can’t imagine. Those who are familiar with him in vehicles such as Belle and Downton Abbey will learn something about his range by watching him in this film. Incidentally, fans of Downton Abbey and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel might be pleased to see Penelope Wilton’s performance in a significant supporting role in Iris.


4 Responses to “Amazon Update No. 8: “Iris””

  1. shoreacres Says:

    I’d not heard of this film, but I’ll watch anything with Judi Dench. Beyond that, a friend who sometimes watches movies with me works as a volunteer with an Alzheimer’s group, and she hasn’t seen this either. So, one of these cold nights, we’ll have a movie-watch.

    Interestingly, The Paris Review just has published an interview from their archives with John Bayley,
    on British wit. There’s a link in the opening of the piece to a NYT article about his death last week, at age 89.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      Judi Dench is a favorite of ours. As you may know, she has macular degeneration and can no longer read, but she still keeps up a busy schedule at 79 or 80 years of age.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      I just read that Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman made a movie together for the BBC. The title is “Esio Trot.” This was broadcast in the UK during this past Christmas season, and it’s going to be available on DVD on March 30. I read one British critic so far, and she couldn’t say enough good things about it.

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