Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Review: "Iris" Blooms Through Powerful Performances (Happy B'day, Jim Broadbent)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 27 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

Iris (2001)
Running time: 91 minutes (1 hour, 31 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Richard Eyre
WRITERS: Charles Wood and Richard Eyre (based upon John Bayley’s books: Iris: A Memoir and Elegy for Iris)
PRODUCERS: Robert Fox and Scott Rudin
EDITOR: Martin Walsh
COMPOSER: James Horner
Academy Award winner


Starring: Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville, and Penelope Wilton

Iris is the story of the real lifelong romance between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley. The romance begins in their school days when Bayley was a professor at Oxford and Ms. Murdoch was young academic teaching philosophy, and the story ends when Ms. Murdoch succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease.

Directed by Richard Eyre, a veteran of British television movies, Iris unveils the story of Ms. Murdoch and Bayley’s love in snippets of time through the eyes of both characters, but in particular Bayley’s. Iris is an actor’s movie, and Eyre shows great skill in preparing the way for his cast. He lingers on the faces when appropriate, especially the eyes of such a talented cast, eye that say speak volumes. In some moments, he allows body movements and body language to communicate the story. And that is what Eyre is, a natural storyteller, allowing his players all the space they need on the stage to perform.

His cast is exquisite. Kate Winslet (Titanic), who earned an Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actress in the role of the young Iris, transforms herself into the young philosopher who has so much interest in words and in life. Although already a star, Ms. Winslet is so convincing that it is difficult to see her as the “star;” we see her instead as her character.

Academy Award winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) also earned a Best Actress nomination for playing the elder Ms. Murdoch, beset by Alzheimer’s. She magically and tragically transforms from national famous novelist to lost soul with subtlety and grace. The key moments of her losing battle with the disease are played out so carefully, you could almost miss them if not paying attention. It is not a flashy performance, but rather one that calls for talent and the skill with which to wield that talent. Ms. Dench mentally and physically decays before our eyes, so we share and understand the sad loss of Ms. Murdoch’s brilliant mind.

Not to dismiss Ms. Winslet and Ms. Dench, the most amazing work are the performances of Hugh Bonneville as the young Bayley and Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy) as the elder Bayley; Broadbent won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his role as John Bayley. Both men have an uncanny connection with the other that makes one’s performance a mirror of the other. Bonneville’s Bayley is perfectly awkward next to Ms. Winslet’s Ms. Murdoch, who is so spirited. The story of their unlikely romance is written on Bonneville’s face. He dominates his scenes, but allows Ms. Winslet to develop and to reveal her character, upon which Bonneville plays his. Not acclaimed like his colleagues, his performance is a treasure. Broadbent must make his Bayley from the doddering old man who let his wife take care of everything to the pillar of strength in the relationship. Like Ms. Dench’s, Broadbent’s transformation is equally subtle; when he has to support her, his performance radiates power. Like Ms. Murdoch, the audience must lean on Bayley so that the story remains coherent. Through Broadbent, the unlikely love gains legitimacy.

Iris is the art of acting and stage drama brought to the screen by four powerful talents and a director who has the sense to let the talent soar. In words, Ms. Murdoch became famous, and through words from the mouths of these true actors, we get to taste some of Iris Murdoch and John Bayley’s story.

8 of 10

2002 Academy Awards: 1 win: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Jim Broadbent); 2 nominations: “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Judi Dench) and “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Kate Winslet)

2002 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Judi Dench); 5 nominations: “Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film” (Robert Fox, Scott Rudin, and Richard Eyre), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Jim Broadbent), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Hugh Bonneville), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Kate Winslet), “Best Screenplay – Adapted” (Richard Eyre and Charles Wood)

2002 Golden Globes: 1 win: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Jim Broadbent); 2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Judi Dench) and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Kate Winslet)


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