Iris (Film) Review

Iris_posterThe last film in our Feminist February series, a theme I hope we come back to as it’s been rather eclectic and inspiring, frankly – if a little odd at times. A fine cinematic choice by Jillian to round out the month but also a highly upsetting one.

Let’s just say *this guy* cried “Green Mile” tears and was a snotty mess way before the end credits rolled.

We have mighty plans for March which I can’t wait to get to grips with but let’s do this wonderful film justice first, shall we?

As always, *Spoilers*!

Iris (2001)

Director: Richard Eyre
Stars: Dame Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet, Hugh Bonneville

IMDB Synopsis: True story of the lifelong romance between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, from their student days through her battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

My Review:

Only 15 years late on this one!

Iris Murdoch was often described as the enfant terrible of the literary set for her novels, which explore themes such as good and evil, sex and relationships, morality and a whole lot of other ‘not very conventional, particularly for a woman’ topics.

We meet Iris as an elderly woman. She’s started to repeat herself and forget things. Her loving husband John is doing the best he can to care for her, doting is what he does best after all but things are spiraling out of their control, leaving them both frightened.

Luckily, we have the luxury of the flashback here and are afforded a look back at the beginning of Iris and John’s relationship, which is sweet and heart-warming. They meet at Oxford University, where Iris is wild and brilliant and John is a stammering virgin with less obvious charms (still adorbs though).

He is in awe of all that Iris is and rightly so, though there are jealousies over her libertine spirit. Iris likes to swim nude so you know she’s serious about this wild child business. See also: cigarettes in cafes and raised eyebrows when asked if she sleeps with ladies.

Cigarette just out of shot

Thankfully, true love prevails and they become a couple after a long friendship. Young Iris (played by my favourite Kate) and her beau live a long and happy life, until the spectre of Alzeimer’s (that old bastard) appears to threaten everything they hold dear. Honestly, this film is heartbreaking AF.

Back in the present day, John is faced with becoming sole carer of his brilliant wife. He can’t help but be frustrated and grows increasingly concerned as Iris starts to wander off. At one point Iris disappears for hours, only to be found by a family friend in Tesco.

During this time it becomes apparent that John’s domestic skills aren’t strong enough to keep the house in check at the same time and he is urged to seek help, which he is reluctant to do. His attitude is decidedly head in the sand, as it’s always been just the two of them.

This is how much I enjoy the beach too, Dame Judi

John continues to take Iris to the water and to the beach as she’s always been a total water baby. She can no longer swim as she once did though, as it now freaks her out. On one occasion they visit the beaches in Suffolk to spend time with an old university chum, Janet (Penelope Wilton) and she’s shocked to see the decline in Iris. The couple later lose Janet to an illness and this does nothing for Iris’ condition.

I don’t really want this review to be all this happened, then in the past this happened, and then back in real life this happened I really don’t and it’s almost unavoidable. The timeline sways back and forth in the most wonderful way, making you fall deeply in love with Young Iris while feeling protective of her declining elder self.

John hasn’t changed a bit, growing into a bumbling but lovely old man, so madly in love with his Iris that at one point, in the midst of a particularly stressful period, he berates her as she sleeps for her past promiscuity. I can understand this completely irrational jealously more than I care to admit.

Eventually, of course, it all gets too much and John has to make a choice.

Glynn Bass’ favourite scene


What will become of Iris and John? Will this film make you cry more than you did at The Green Mile?

My Thoughts:

UGH! Now I cry at almost everything and daily too but this brought out a special calibre of sobbing.

Dementia is the most heartbreaking thing I can think of and Iris made me want to call every single person I know to tell them I love them. I cried thinking about how I would feel if this happened to my mother. I cried thinking about how I would feel if my beloved started to forget me, or how he’d cope if it happened to me. A very introspective (and melancholy) reaction indeed!

I loved it because it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful because John loves Iris so much and he tries to see the beauty in the condition, in those tiny slivers of lucidity. He loves her to the end and then he honours the woman he’s loved all his life. It’s a very ordinary ending for a unique talent, without fanfare or fireworks and for that it’s all the more devastating.

Stick a fork in me, I’m done

UGH. Have tissues to hand.

From a feminist point of view, Iris is about a successful and controversial artist whose partner plays second fiddle to her career and that’s refreshing. Iris is accused at one point by a former lover of using her friends to gain stories for her books and I like that about her, although it’s behaviour she denies. It’s very unbecoming for a ‘lady’, right? Which makes it fucking awesome!

I also love that Iris enjoys sex so unapologetically, although she is made to feel somewhat guilty when she’s disclosing her ‘magic number’ to John. Let’s just put that down to the fragile male ego. Again, I also liked that she has a Don’t Tell policy when it comes to her dalliances with the lesbians.

My Rating: 5/5. I can’t give anything less, it would be against English law.

Did Jillian love this one as much as I did? Was it swimming naked in a lake great or freezing your nips off on a grey old beach bad? Find out here.

5 thoughts on “Iris (Film) Review

  1. Destroyed. I am absolutely destroyed.
    I’m glad we watched it, but I’m so glad March promises to be a bit more light/mindless.
    All of the performances in this were stellar, and I lost it so thoroughly at so many scenes.
    I feel we deserve ice cream for making it through this one.
    Ha ha, nice cowboy hats for Kate Winslet, btw.


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