Running Time: 90 mins
Dame Iris Murdoch was an agnostic. Through terrible experiences of her local Vicar as a child she came to believe in "God without religion". She was also one of Britain's most powerful thinkers and writers in the 20th Century. Her books could be, in part, what the Pope calls, 'implicit proclamations of the Gospel'. She may not have held a confessional faith, but she almost always wrote about love, truth, beauty and justice. Her other big topic was freedom. She wasn't self-control's greatest admirer.
The brilliant and free spirited Iris (Winslet) arrives at Oxford and soon takes her College by storm. The shy and eccentric John Bayley (Bonneville) falls hopelessly in love with her mind and passion for life. He puts up with a lot. Iris experiments with just about everything before marrying him. Then in her late middle age, Dame Iris (Dench) gets Alzheimer's disease and Professor Bayley (Broadbent) must care for her.
Iris charts the heartbreak of losing someone we love while they are still alive. It is a warm and emotional film steeped in humanity. The acting by all four leads is stellar, but Jim Broadbent as the older Bayley is magnificent. His denial, desperation and anger are completely convincing. This film is poorly named. It should have been called Iris & John.
As beautifully observed as Iris is, the constant cutting between the early and later stages of Iris and John's lives blunts the emotional edge of the story on the screen. It would have been stronger if we were allowed to settle into the later story for longer. Anyone looking for an exploration of Murdoch's thought will be disappointed too.
Couples preparing for marriage might see Iris and begin to understand what can come from saying, "For better or worse...in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life."
Richard Leonard SJ