Unhappy document of the decline of British novelist Iris Murdoch's mental acuity due to Alzheimer's, and the stress it put on her loving husband John Bayley. Based on Bayley's memoir, the film seems almost too intimate a look at their relationship: not because it's shocking, but because nobody stopped this project along the way to ask, "Do you really think anybody wants this man's memories of his wife made into a film?" To be fair, Murdoch is not as renowned in America as she is in England, and I've never read any of her work, so I shouldn't judge. Maybe everybody in England has been screaming for an Iris Murdoch biopic.
The film's selling point – and no doubt the reason that it did get made, and released theatrically instead of residing in its rightful place on Lifetime as another disease-of-the-week TV movie – is its A-list cast. When you have Dame Judi Dench playing Murdoch in her decline, intercut with Kate Winslet (who, as expected, disrobes several times) as the freewheeling young Murdoch, the money is sure to follow. Let's not forget the always reliable Jim Broadbent as the long-suffering John Bayley (with Hugh Bonneville, an uncanny Broadbent lookalike, playing Bayley in his youth), and there's no surprise that the acting is first-rate.
But there is no story. It's just a bunch of scenes of Bayley falling in love with Murdoch at college, then Bayley putting up with her senility in their twilight years. The film aims for the tear ducts (and the Oscars), but it's depressing without being emotionally engaging. This story could really be about anybody suffering from Alzheimer's; it sheds no light on what we already know about what it does to its victims, and how it affects their loved ones.
So unless you want to watch Kate Winslet get naked yet again, there's nothing particularly remarkable about Iris. I will mention that composer James Horner's tones down his usual sappiness in his score here. But there's still too much of it. Barely a single scene unfolds without full orchestration driving the point home.