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Iris

Richard Eyre's marvelous film Iris takes us through one of the most harrowing trials a marriage can face: the descent of one partner into Alzheimer's. The interest in this case comes because the partner in question is famed author Iris Murdoch, played brilliantly here at different points in time by both Judi Dench and Kate Winslet (both nominated for Academy Awards). Both actresses look strikingly like Murdoch, unusual for a feature film, and even more unusual to note that the two actresses resemble each other so much. Winslet plays Iris as a young student at Oxford in the 1950s, a virtual whirlwind of talent, brains and sexuality who's just about to finish her first novel. She meets the man who will become her husband that year, John Bayley (who wrote Elegy for Iris, the memoir on which the film is based), played with even more eerie similarity by Hugh Bonneville and later Jim Broadbent, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role. Bayley was a novelist himself, as well as a respected literary critic and professor of English at Oxford, although you'd never know it from the film (one of the small disappointments of Iris, in fact, is that virtually none of the film is spent examining the work of these two amazing people.) Younger and much more sexually inexperienced than Murdoch, Bayley suffered through her numerous affairs with both men and women — but remained steadfast to the one woman he loved above all else, and Murdoch returned to him over and over; they made a life together, on their own terms, that lasted more than four decades. When we see their life in the 1990s, we get a glimpse at the end result of those 40 years of marriage — endlessly devoted to each other, the two lived together in messy, childlike, bohemian clutter, with Bayley the clumsy, affectionate lover to Murdoch's brilliant iconoclast. As she becomes more and more dependent on Bayley as her illness progresses, Broadbent gives us the frustration of a man who has never fully felt he's "owned" his free-spirited wife, now slipping away from him forever. It's a powerful performance of a man who has focused his life on one person and finds himself angry and frightened as he slowly loses his anchor. While occasionally a bit soggy, and frustratingly lacking in details about the writing life these two shared, Iris is a stunning film with three devastating performances at its heart. Buena Vista's DVD release of Iris offers a lovely, sparkling transfer in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. On board are a "making-of" featurette "A Look at Iris," a tribute to the film by the Alzheimer's Association, and brief primer on the symptoms of the disease by David Hyde Pierce. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor



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