Brilliant, liberated Iris Murdoch (Kate Winslet/Judi Dench) captures the utter devotion of awkward John Bayley (Hugh Bonneville/Jim Broadbent), whom she inexplicably chooses to be her life partner. The film transfers often between their earliest adventures as students, when Murdoch reveled in shocking the more conventional young man--to stages in the inexorable deterioration of her mind and Bayley’s attempts to keep her going as a writer and a human being.

Memorable scenes include Bayley’s continued admiration of the mature woman’s brilliance, his midnight rage against their lot, and underwater swimming that contrasts nubile daring youth with clumsy, terrified age. In the final minutes, Iris is left in a light-filled institution with kind attendants; her death is hidden. The viewer realizes that this is his tale, not hers.


Outstanding acting and superb directing brings the acclaimed memoir to life. The physical and intellectual contrasts between the beautiful young people and doddering old, between sharp minds and vacant, is recapitulated in the idyllic scenery of the salad days at Oxford and the quirky, squalid chaos of the elderly couple’s home. A foray into a shopping mall is tragicomic.

Bayley’s continued tenderness for his accomplished partner is convincingly portrayed, so great that it endures beyond her knowing of herself. The messages are not particularly original, nor are they complicated: profound sadness and the mystery of devotion born of intense love.


Based on two memoirs by John Bayley, Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch (1998, see Elegy for Iris in this database) and Iris and the Friends: A Year of Memories (1999); This film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best British Film (2001). Broadbent won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

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