Richard Eyre’s free-associative Iris cuts back and forth between Iris Murdoch’s libertine early years as a budding wordsmith and her later days as an Alzheimer’s victim; in effect, the most terrible thing to wilt for a novelist/philosopher is memory itself. There isn’t much to Eyre’s visual landscape, airy compositions and oftentimes-loopy transition work. Kate Winslet, as young Iris, stares off-screen, thus triggering scenes of the stagnating world and mind of the older Iris (Judi Dench). Winslet’s Iris swims, fornicates and relishes her relationships with her lesbian friends while Dench’s Iris fumbles through television interviews, watches Teletubbies and lets her home go to seed. Stuttering paramour John Bayley (Hugh Bonneville) is the young dolt who falls prey to Iris’s witty charms; for her, language is not the only way of understanding as words themselves become the machines for making falsehoods. Eyre carefully establishes Iris’s fondness for the exactness and pervasiveness of words (not to mention perpendicular coition), which, in turn, serves as the antithesis to the aged Iris’s mental dilapidation. An older Bailey (Jim Broadbent) painfully takes lifelong resentment out on his crippled wife, heightening the director’s accept-me-as-I-am thesis. Despite Eyre’s flowery direction, there’s a brave humanism at work here as Iris dares to lend humor to the Alzheimer proceedings. While Jim Broadbent is wonderful as the older Bayley, it is Dench’s show (without her, Iris would be inconsequential). Dodging the easy rain-woman schtick, Dench (eerily resembling Ellen Burstyn during Requiem for a Dream‘s breakdown sequence) lets empty stares and sagging wrinkles tell the tale of Iris’s erasing mind; yes, that’s Oscar knocking.
Buena Vista Home Video presents Iris here in its original 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen and while the transfer more or less preserves cinematographer Roger Pratt's airy stylistic choices, colors are muted and are often on the muggy side. Sound isn't key on this dialogue-heavy film though the English 5.1 Dolby surround is perfectly serviceable.
Despite Jim Broadbent's Oscar win, Miramax went light on the special features for this Iris DVD edition. Included here are two PSA-like features: "Alzheimer's Association Honors Iris and Jim Broadbent" and "A Special Message From David Hyde Pierce". The 14-minute "A Talent For Life: Iris" ("A Look At Iris" according to the packaging) featurette is a familiar assortment of film clips, archival photographs and cast and crew interviews. The film's theatrical trailer is not offered though the Sneak Peeks section features trailers for six other Miramax titles.
The film's performances deserve a look though this is a relatively uninspired DVD edition.