Film about the Oxford writer Iris Murdoch, based on the memoirs of her husband, John Bayley. Touching performances by Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent as the older couple; Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville the younger. The Director, Richard Eyre, states that he didn't want to make a film about an illness (Alzheimer's). For the most part, he succeeded; but I think it is more Bayley's books rather than the film that are to blame for focusing too much on the impact of the illness, rather than the achievements of Murdoch the writer. The film is more a love story in two parts: the young, courting couple; and the ageing, mellowing and forgetting Iris and John. There is not much in between. The earlier years are used more as a foil against which to pit the poignancy of the illness, seeing them, perhaps, through a glass, darkly. It is endearing in itself, but this is not a biopic.

Within these narrow limits, however, it is without doubt a success. Jim Broadbent is deserving of his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. His rages and frustrations are particularly well articulated and go some way to repairing the character of John Bayley, against whom there have been many protests from admirers of Murdoch. The film explains well how he was damaged by Murdoch's freer-spirited attitude towards love, her vibrancy and charisma. There is the suggestion that he was always somewhat lonely in the relationship, perhaps felt too blessed and undeserving of such company.


The challenges of empathy

I'd definitely agree that this is a great empathy film, giving a good feel for what it might be like to experience an illnesss like Alzeimer's, and also what it is like to be in a relationship with someone who is developing the illness. This latter aspect is the film's real strong point - it's what the John Bayley character is going through that really interests me, especially because the growing epidemic of Alzheimer's means more and more people are going to have someone close to them develop it. I also like the honesty of the film - John Bayley doesn't find it easy being with Iris as the fog descends on her mind. In other words, at times he struggles to empathise with Iris - a very realistic issue.


Mellowing with age?

I liked how the circumstances that the characters are forced in test the limits of John's empathy, and how his anger towards Iris in her illness is not just based on their hellish day-to-day situation but the fear that he was never enough for her. The juxtaposition between the powerful young Iris, who is occasionally self-indulgent and thoughtless in the way of most young students, and the older version snacking on crisps in a pub with her husband, says a lot about their relationship and how it's calmed down over time. It shows that the compromises we make can be as important as the grand gestures.

Average: 4 (2 votes)
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