One of the most striking things one takes away from Richard Eyre’s 2001 film Iris is how extraordinary the four principle actors are in bringing this complex story to life. The film recounts the life of Iris Murdoch, the rebellious British novelist who became a celebrity in England for being a prolific genius of the written and spoken word. A brilliant cast of two sets of players Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville & Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent embody Iris Murdoch and her soulmate, John Bayley at different stages of their lives. The film begins ambitiously as a chronicle of the young Iris (Winslet) and progresses to an emotionally-brutal story of the older Iris (Judi Dench) and the painful struggle she encounters as she lives (and eventually succumbs to) Alzheimer’s Disease. The screenplay, which was adapted by Eyre and Charles Wood from John Bayley’s two volumes of memoirs: Iris- A Memoir and An Elegy for Iris, cuts rapidly back and forth between the youthful and aging Irises. The end result is a shattering portrait of a woman who’s brilliant mind is ravaged by the affects of a debilitating disease. Jim Broadbent turns in exceptional supporting work as Iris’ devoted life partner, John Bayley. The scene in which he verbally explodes in bed in front his ailing wife is absolutely heartbreaking. Broadbent deservedly took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Of the films three acting nominations, one went to Kate Winslet, nominee, (167), for her portrayal of the young Iris Murdoch. Winslet, who is excellent in nearly every film she appears in, is absolutely superb and compelling as the vibrant, blossoming Iris. Winslet and Dench (who scored a Best Actress nomination for playing the older Iris) became the second set of actresses to be nominated for playing the same character in the same film. The first time this occured was again with Winslet and her co-star Gloria Stuart, who were both nominated for playing “Rose” in Titanic in 1997. Kate Winslet lost the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2001 to Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind.