Though another man is credited with making the film director/co-writer Richard Eyre "Iris" should really be attributed to British literature professor John Bayley, the husband of late author Iris Murdoch.
After all, this extremely well-cast and well-acted drama is based on Bayley's biographical novels "Elegy for Iris" and "Iris and Her Friends." And it comes across as a filmed love letter to Murdoch, the much-revered writer and philosopher whose keen mind was muted and finally silenced by Alzheimer's.
Cinematic valentines can often be a bit too self-involved and too "inside" for general audiences, but this one is interesting enough to hold interest and may even make some seek out the source material (as well as Murdoch's novels) to find out more about the real-life story.
Even a few clumsy and heavy-handed moments can't take the sheen off this film's performances (which resulted in a trio of deserved Academy Award nominations). The recipients of two of those nominations are Kate Winslet and Dame Judi Dench, who play extremely different aspects of the same person, the title character both in terms of age and mental sharpness.
We first see Murdoch in her prime, as a vital, free-spirited, young woman (Winslet, nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category). Both of those qualities appeal to Bayley (Hugh Bonneville), a fellow Oxford University student whose shyness prevents him from revealing his true feelings to her.
But he's also patient, and it's that quality, as well as his sense of devotion, that finally wins her over. And though neither of them knows it at this point, he'll need a lot of both qualities when the older Murdoch (Dench, nominated as Best Actress) begins to show telltale signs of Alzheimer's.
The film is perhaps a little too flashback-heavy for its own good, but both the past and recent-past storylines are effectively done. Also, it's interesting to compare this film with "A Beautiful Mind," given the similarities in subject matter. While the latter, a much glossier and more media-hyped movie, "sanitizes" its story, the former doesn't pull any punches.
But primarily, "Iris" is a virtual acting showcase. Winslet is solid as usual in what could be termed the "less-difficult" role of the young Iris, and Dench is both convincing and heartbreaking with the "more-difficult" older part. Which isn't meant to slight Bonneville and Best Supporting Actor nominee Jim Broadbent, who look eerily like one another and whose performances as the younger and older Bayley really do seem like different aspects of the same person.
"Iris" is rated R for full female and brief male partial nudity, a brief sex scene and some sexual contact, brief use of strong, sexually related profanity, brief violence (a confrontation between animals, overheard) and some sexual talk. Running time: 90 minutes.