Feature Articles

 

 

 

Links to articles:

 

Comments by those involved (Kate, Judi, Hugh, Jim, Producer Fox)

Broadbent The Beloved Briton -- Hartford Courant, Feb 17, 2002

Catching Broadbent... -- Boston Globe, Feb 17, 2002

Iris Murdoch's Ireland -- Irish Times, Feb 16, 2002

Judi Dench Eagerly Tackles Novel Role -- Boston Herald, Feb 15, 2002 

Nothing Like A Dame -- Star Tribune, Feb 15, 2002

Fine Madness... -- Los Angeles Daily News, Feb 12, 2002

The Importance of Being Iris -- BBC News, Jan 8, 2002

Excerpt from feature article on Jim Broadbent -- Sunday Times, Dec 23

Of Love and Death, and the Flowering of a Film Called 'Iris' -- LA Times, Dec 10

How Iris Taught Kate The Secret Of True Love -- Mail On Sunday, Dec 9

Art, Life and Love: Seeing Iris in 'Iris' -- NY Times, Dec 9

Transcript of Judi's interview with Katie Couric - Today, Dec 4

That Winslet Woman -- NY Daily News, Dec 2

One Great Dame Plays Another -- BBC News, Nov 30

Remembering A Life --  Dec 2001/Jan 2002 Talk Magazine

Holiday Movie Preview/And The Nominees Could Be -- November 16 issue of Entertainment Weekly

'Iris': The Decline and Fall of a Writer's Mind, Charted by a Master -- Sept 9 NY Times

Spotlight - Becoming Miss Murdoch -- September 2001 Vanity Fair magazine

 

Kate Winslet (Young Iris Murdoch)

 

"John Bayley has written three very good books on his life with Iris that pay a lot of attention to the later periods in her life and their relationship throughout. I read those books and I did a lot of research from people who were involved with her and with this project. Everybody was very helpful."

 

"Iím always extremely conscious of getting as close to reality as possible for the people who knew her and loved her. In the case of Iris Murdoch, nailing the part was extremely difficult. Her dialogue is so highly intelligent and complex that the night before filming Hugh and I would ask each other if we were having trouble memorizing our lines. Iris and John Bayley were on an intellectual plane that no one else could really reach."

 

"Iris and John were sort of like big children in a way which is so wonderful. Itís quite difficult to portray how jovial and fun they were, while also allowing the undercurrents of their incredible intellects to bleed in and out of the story. Especially considering that I could never be as bright as Iris Murdoch."

 

"Iíve watched the documentaries that were made on Iris Murdoch again and again. During filming I tried to watch them everyday because her style of speech supposedly didnít change much throughout her life. Her speech was quite posh. Sometimes she spoke very fast and sometimes she spoke slowly but it was always well measured and assured."

 

"I feel really lucky to have played this part because Iris was such an interesting character. She was widely known to have been rampantly bisexual, and a fiercely intelligent philosopher who believed in truth, honesty, and being real. She wasnít the type of person that you could have a normal conversation with. She would pick up on some flippant comment in your speech and then sheíd be relentless in analyzing it down to nothing. Itís a role in which I very much had to be on the ball. The one thing that people have said about her across the board is that she just had the most incredibly free spirit. A real liver of life."

 

"John and Iris gave each other a great deal of strength. In many ways theirs is a true, true love story. I think she just found him very amusing, and challenging, and exciting, and fun to be with. Sort of kindred spirits you could say."

 

"The movie does feel like a love story. But I was very aware at all times of the history of the story, and the fact that these things really did happen. I think we all tried to be very respectful and mindful of that history because we wanted very much to do these characters justice. I think itís one of the best love stories Iíve ever read."

 

 

Judi Dench (Iris Murdoch)

 

"I think it was really three years ago when I was first approached about playing Iris. Iíve been a tremendous fan of Iris Murdoch, of her books and of her plays, and so I thought it would be a great challenge to take on this role. I didnít know quite how hard it was going to be but it wouldnít have mattered because I was very keen on the project. Iím terribly pleased that weíve made it. Weíve had a really good time. Everybody tells you something different about what she was like and I found myself playing a kind of insight crossword game. It was extremely hard work, the hardest work Iíve ever done."

 

"Thereís something about Irisís manner, and the way her words are delivered so precisely, that is incredibly striking. She doesnít underly or overstress words like we might. She uses no gestures and is totally undramatic. She just chooses the words that she wants and leaves it like that. That was the kind of mind she had. And in a way it gives you a hint of the kind of philosopher she was."

 

"I think the relationship between John and Iris is really amazing. I do really think of this film as a love story. The two of them were curiously put together in a kind of wonderful miracle."

 

"Jim and I worked very well together. When youíre first working with someone itís always very interesting. Not only are you trying to assimilate this person to the place where they ought to be but youíre also sensing out the way that that person is going to work, or wishes to work. And so we were pretty quiet the first week or so and then quite suddenly we realized that we both have a kind of absurdity about us, and an absurdity about the way we work, too. We did match very, very well after that initial stint."

 

"I feel very pleased that Iíve played Iris. I wouldnít exchange the last five weeks for anything. I understand Iris now. I can hear her voice all the time."

 

 

Hugh Bonneville (Young John Bayley)

 

"Itís a challenge to portray a character who is living. Itís interesting because heís such a vivid character and he has written so beautifully on his relationship with Iris. They were an extremely eccentric and vibrant couple. Johnís speech rhythms are so fascinating that Iíve studied tapes quite diligently in order to get them right."

 

"When we first meet John he is quite gauche. Like many academics he is intensely intelligent yet at the same time sort of lost in his own world. John Bayley describes them as two rabbits living in a borough, which goes halfway towards describing their rather strange lifestyles. When we first find John he is naive to the ways of the world, and I think Iris gave him a huge amount of confidence. He always admired her enormously. In many ways he was a blank canvas on which Iris wrote and sketched."

 

"The cruelest irony of their story is that John was always reaching out to Iris for reassurance and for fulfillment and in the end, due to her Alzheimers, it is Iris who needs John. Itís crucifying for him because her need takes him to a point where he isnít interested in the attention anymore. She gradually becomes completely dependent on him yet she is never quite capable of understanding that need. This is one of the great ripples in their story that Richard was able to successfully explore in the script."

 

"The whole world of sex is like a desert for him. John said in his own writing that he picked Iris to fall in love with because he didnít think there would be any competition for her because she wasnít a natural beauty, and he thought sex was totally off the agenda because it was her mind he was in love with. Then to discover that she not only had sexuality, but a voracious appetite, and numerous lovers, was a bit of shock to his naivetť. On the other hand he accepted it because he completely adored her."

 

"At one point in his writing he speaks of him and Iris growing closer and closer apart. Which John defined as the basis for a great marriage. John and Iris spent enormous amounts of time apart. She had a place in London where she often went off to work on her own, as did he. They simply submitted to the solitary nature of writing. I think the great joy of their relationships was that they just talked bollocks to each other, and lived in their funny little fantasy world all the time."

 

 

Jim Broadbent (John Bayley)

 

"I like character acting challenges so I took it on. Itís a lovely, lovely script. Just beautiful and very carefully written, and extremely accurate in terms of the history that John Bayley has written about their lives. The fact that Iím playing a real person makes my job much more complex. The extensive contradictions that one builds up in a long lifetime will always be more than in a fictional character who is drawn in broader strokes. Creating this sort of fuller character is very exciting for me."

 

"Itís quite a famous relationship between John and Iris that ignited in the academic world of Oxford. For forty odd years they were together. John has an air of disbelief that he is actually with Iris. It was obviously a very enduring relationship, and happy by all accounts. The Alzheimerís disease is what ultimately drew them tightly together in a way they had never been able to before. This pure mutual dependence that is a result of her disease gives a purity to their relationship that hadnít been there before."

 

"I think John was in total awe of her his entire life. Heís totally in love with her with a sort of enduring surprise and passion. The excitement of just being in her presence, and how that balance changes for him after her illness sets in, shows how their relationship remains equally strong if not stronger."

 

"Iíd never worked with Judi before and it was really exciting and very, very stimulating. It was fun being with her and we definitely worked in the same way. I think we have a similar nose for when things donít quite seem right, or when we struck a false note in a scene. We both seemed to find the humor and emotion in the same areas."

 

 

Robert Fox (Producer)

 

"Playing Iris really puts Judi in a position where she can do everything. I mean sheís funny, and healthy, and then sick. And she just does an amazing job. What she brings to the role is truly remarkable."

 

 

 

Feb 17 -- From The Hartford Courant:

 

Broadbent The Beloved Briton
By Ron Dicker, Special to The Courant


NEW YORK - -- Jim Broadbent was being good. A bowl of M&Ms beckoned like whispers. He grabbed a few, then sank back in his chair. "I've lost weight," he said. "I was wearing a lot of padding in a lot of films. I didn't want to get too much into the pattern of playing overweight characters, for health reasons above anything else."


The 52-year-old Broadbent, one of Britain's most beloved character actors, is more handsome in person, with kind blue eyes, cherubic cheeks and a less prominent nose. It's his convincing portrayals that bring out the oversized, the grotesque and the inept.


His characters are often benign and bumbling. In the biographical movie "Iris," which opened Friday, he plays the smitten English scholar John Bayley, who takes care of his wife, author Iris Murdoch, as she descends into Alzheimer's. (The film is based on Bayley's book "Elegy for Iris.") In last year's comedy hit "Bridget Jones's Diary," Broadbent played Bridget's ineffectual father.


Broadbent can be clown-like and melodramatic, too, as he was in playing the impresario in "Moulin Rouge" (2001) and the librettist W.L. Gilbert in Mike Leigh's "Topsy-Turvy" (1998).
"There's probably a good reason why I'm cast in those roles," said Broadbent, who has imposed a moratorium on playing "theatricals" for now.


In "Iris," Broadbent is the man behind the woman. His rumpled professor takes a puppy dog's fancy to the lusty Iris. He buffs his wife's ego as she shoots to literary stardom, then shields her from her ego as Alzheimer's exacts its toll. Judi Dench plays the older Iris, and Kate Winslet ("Titanic") is the younger Iris. Hugh Bonneville, a dead ringer for Broadbent, plays the young John Bayley.


Broadbent's caregiver role didn't require any method approach. His mother, Dee, died from Alzheimer's five years ago. "There's a gentleness about the way it took Iris and the same with my mother," the actor said. "Sometimes people get very angry and difficult, but not in Iris' case."


Dench was dealing with a friend's Alzheimer's when she and Broadbent worked together, but the two didn't hit it off right away. Broadbent was a tad reserved working with the Academy Award-winning Dench ("Shakespeare in Love").


"It took us about three or four days before I suddenly realized he had a huge sense of humor," Dench said. "We were in the makeup room one morning, and I said, 'Jim, do you have any cats?' He said, 'Yes, we have a cat called Naughty.' And I said, 'What a great name.' And he said, 'Not so hot when you're sitting at the vet's in a waiting room full of people and somebody comes out and says, 'Naughty Broadbent!'"


Dench and Broadbent are nominated for Oscars for their roles in "Iris," she as best actress and he as best supporting actor. Kate Winslet, who plays the younger Iris, is nominated for best supporting actress.
Dench did a little p.r. for her co-star. "The choices that Jim makes, he makes them so quietly, there's no big deal," she said. "He just does it, and it hits you in the solar plexus."


Offscreen, Broadbent likes to walk, play the occasional round of bad golf and take care of domestic chores at his North London home while his wife, Anastasia, paints in her studio.


He has no job at the moment, but he does have a hefty role in Martin Scorsese's much-awaited "Gangs of New York," opening in the summer. In a career departure, Broadbent plays the ruthless politician Boss Tweed. "I'm nervous about it," he said. "He's such an archetypal New York villain, isn't he? It's the first time I play an American onscreen. I think New Yorkers have a picture of Boss Tweed."


Besides Leigh and Scorsese, Broadbent has also worked with directors Mike Newell ("Enchanted April") and Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game") since he decided to concentrate on film 10 years ago. He has been called a British Randy Quaid for their similar appearance, but Broadbent has shown far greater range.


Broadbent grew up in Lincolnshire, where his father, Roy, converted a church into a theater. Broadbent attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and began his career with the Royal National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Brent, a two-man troupe that performed reduced histories.


He got his first major exposure in Ken Campbell's 1976 "Illuminatus," a 12-hour science-fiction show in which he played a dozen characters. With a demeanor that often matched his tall, awkward frame, Broadbent established himself early as a character actor.


His career revved up when he met Leigh, sparking a collaboration that included the plays "Ecstasy" (1979) and "Goosepimples" (1981) and the film "Life Is Sweet" (1991). "He likes actors," Broadbent said of Leigh, as if other directors' missions were to make life difficult for their charges.


Broadbent also did sitcoms and TV movies, predicting that acclaim for film would come later in life. He might not be a household name, but he is a bona fide international success.
"I'm quite happy with my lot," he said.

 

 

Feb 17 -- From the Boston Globe:

 

Catching Broadbent Before He Disappears

Like the best character actors, he vanishes into his roles, from 'Moulin Rouge' to 'Iris'

By Damon Smith

 

NEW YORK - Some actors get by on their sculpted figures and big toothy grins. Some embody a type - the New York wise guy, for instance - and play it repeatedly. Others sell their personality in lieu of talent, getting work because of who they happen to be. Many, though, have simply mastered the art of great acting. You just might not know them by name.

 

British actor Jim Broadbent falls into the last category. Appearing in nearly 50 films since 1978, he has worked with top indie directors Mike Leigh, Terry Gilliam, Woody Allen, and Baz Luhrmann. Some of Broadbent's credits include ''Life Is Sweet,'' ''Richard III,'' and ''Bullets Over Broadway,'' all of which marked him as a versatile actor with a taste for the eccentric. More recently, Broadbent won acclaim for his role as Zidler, the quirky cabaret owner in ''Moulin Rouge'' who warbles Madonna's ''Like a Virgin.'' In 1999, he won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for his wonderfully idiosyncratic portrayal of 19th-century songsmith W. S. Gilbert in Leigh's ''Topsy-Turvy.'' And this year he won a Golden Globe and earned an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor for his role in ''Iris,'' which opened Friday.

 

Broadbent, now 51, worked for years as a stage actor before he got his big break: playing a dozen roles in the 12-hour science-fiction play ''Illuminatus.'' Soon he had made the transition to film and television, taking parts from directors like Gilliam and Leigh. It's hard to say exactly what makes Broadbent himself so likely to dematerialize on-screen. Whether he's a doctor, barrister, Viking, prince, working-class family man, or stiff Victorian, Broadbent is so self-assured - so convincing in the role - he doesn't leave any room for you to think of the personality behind the mask. Like all the best character actors, his performances are refined to the point of making his presence seem organic to the film, utterly lifelike.

 

For all his vitality as an actor, Broadbent has a reserved, almost self-effacing air about him in person, as if he might shrink from too much attention. Seated in Manhattan's Parker Meridien hotel, Broadbent is dressed casually in a tan sport coat and black wire-frame glasses, which sit delicately atop his thin, sloping nose. The actor chooses his words carefully, trailing off suddenly in the middle of a sentence, and frequently chuckling. Whether he's nervous or easily humored is hard to tell. But his timidness masks a supple intelligence.

 

Broadbent is in New York to promote ''Iris,'' a biopic about the influential British novelist and moral philosopher Iris Murdoch and her battle with Alzheimer's, which claimed her life in 1999. Based on memoirs by Murdoch's husband, English professor John Bayley, ''Iris'' stars Dame Judi Dench in the title role and Broadbent as her patiently adoring spouse, along with Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville playing younger versions of those characters. A love story that veers back and forth between Oxford in the '50s and their dark but hopeful final years together, ''Iris'' is a perfect showcase for Broadbent. As the elder Bayley, he is heartbreakingly anguished watching Iris deteriorate, and slightly bitter as he recalls her past indiscretions.

Portraying a fellow 20 years older than himself made him apprehensive at first, Broadbent says, but Richard Eyre, the director of ''Iris,'' reassured him. Besides, he remarks, it was a beautiful script. ''My mother had had Alzheimer's, so I knew a fair bit about the disease, the form it took, and I could see that it was an honest and fair and direct and unsentimental look at the disease. And funny and moving, a rich bit of writing about so many other things as well: a wonderful love story of an era, and a period.''

 

Aside from shaving his head and spending two hours a day in the makeup chair, Broadbent also had to master Bayley's peculiar stutter. ''I never met John Bayley but I did listen extensively to an audiotape of a radio interview he had done over in a series we have in the UK: 'In the Psychiatrist's Chair.' The psychiatrist talks to various celebrities, all well-known people, and delves into their psyche,'' he says, chuckling. ''Bayley had done that, so I listened to that endlessly in the car when I was driving. 'And, and his, his s-s-s-s-stutter' [imitating Bayley] is a very marked vocal feature. So I practiced on my own ... hoping to get the character, getting the voice, getting the tempo, getting his rhythm, and getting his manner.''

 

Remarkably enough, despite their extensive background in the performing arts, Broadbent and Dench had never crossed paths before they appeared on the set of ''Iris.'' Though he was tentative at first to share screen time with an icon of British theater and film, Broadbent says, ''Soon we were completely fine working together, keeping an easy, funny atmosphere going, but then taking the work seriously as well.'' Both actors were also sensitive enough to know when to give the other space, especially when a difficult scene was coming up - and there are several emotionally intense moments in ''Iris.''

 

Given that he has scheduled two or three film shoots a year, at least, for the past two decades, one wonders whether Broadbent ever becomes exhausted. Being constantly in demand, he must find it tough to turn down parts. ''Ultimately, I haven't been too relentless,'' he says. ''The tricky thing has been being abroad a lot. I was eight months in Australia [for 'Moulin Rouge'] and six months in Rome - that's quite demanding, domestically. So when I'm not working, I just have to catch up with real life. But the balance seems to be about right.''

 

For dedicated veterans like him, it must also be hard to differentiate between acting as a living and acting as a way of life. ''Sometimes I see it - the need to act - as a sort of neurotic condition. And then a function of being successful is that you scratch the itch. ... And so it's not as desperately important as it used to be. I mean, it was my life, you know, a sort of need. And I'm quite happy now not to be acting for a while because I'm reasonably confident that there's something around.''

 

Right now, Broadbent seems focused on not repeating himself, avoiding the kinds of parts that might lead directors to typecast him. For instance, Broadbent says he was fortunate to have worked recently with Martin Scorsese on the highly anticipated ''Gangs of New York,'' based on Herbert Asbury's 1928 social history. (He plays the corrupt politician Boss Tweed, a challenging role that required hours of study with a dialogue coach.) Though he seems to have little interest in Hollywood-style celebrity, and remains modest about his accomplishments, Broadbent isn't quite sure how to characterize himself professionally. But isn't that the perfect definition of a character actor?

 

''Well, I suppose so, but I mean, see. ... '' He pauses, mulling over the term. ''I remember we were doing 'Moulin Rouge,' and I said something, chatting with Ewan McGregor, and I said, 'Yeah, but I'm a character actor,' and Ewan said, 'We're all character actors, Jim.' You know, he's absolutely right. Certainly, I think, all good actors are, really. But perhaps I'm asked to do a greater range than some people are, because people don't know quite how to pigeonhole me.''

 

Indeed, they don't. And that's exactly what makes Broadbent so much fun to watch. You never know where he'll pop up, or who he'll decide to be next.

 

 

Feb 16 -- From the Irish Times:

 

Weekend: Beginning life on the 'demonic island' - Iris Murdoch's Ireland
Playing the novelist Iris Murdoch in Richard Eyre's new film, both Judi Dench and Kate Winslet have quintessentially upper-class English accents. It comes as somewhat of a surprise, therefore, to read in Peter Conradi's recent biography of the writer that Iris Murdoch once claimed to have an Irish accent 'you could cut with a knife'.

 

Iris's idea of an Irish brogue may have been questionable, but her often-voiced claims to an Irish heritage were not: she was born in Dublin to Irish parents. Her mother, Irene Richardson, grew up at 59 Blessington Street, while her father, Hughes Murdoch, was from Co Down. They met on a Dublin tram in 1918; Irene was on her way to choir practice at the Black Church on Mountjoy Street.

 

Murdoch was born in 1919 in the house on Blessington Street, a house she would later describe as having an ecclesiastical darkness, a musty smell, and 'an atmosphere the colour of strong tea'. The family moved to London before Murdoch was a year old, but returned to Ireland for summer holidays, and Murdoch continued to visit in adult life. On one trip, she stayed with Elizabeth Bowen at Bowen's Court; on another, she was inspired by the Irish landscape to use it as the backdrop for her novel, The Unicorn.

 

Throughout her life, Murdoch remained fascinated by Ireland. In 1985, after receiving an honorary degree from Trinity College, she proclaimed 'I am always disturbed by visiting Ireland - demonic island, so charming and so mad'.

 

She set her 1965 novel The Red and the Green in Dublin, in the week leading up to the Easter Rising. The city is given a strong personality; described with an attention to detail that reflects the writer's ambivalent feelings towards the 'dark wet island' of her birth.

 

'The Dumay's house stood at the upper end of Blessington Street, a wide, sad, dirty street due north of the Pillar, which crawled up the hill and ended at the railings of a melancholy little park. It had, under the pale bright sky, its own quiet air of dereliction, a street leading nowhere, always full of idling dogs and open doorways... Yet the street had a spirit above these matter and in the evening when the lamp-lighter was just going his rounds, or on certain soft days when the sun shone through cloud, making everything vivid and exact as in a print, the street looked beautiful, with that particular sad, resigned, orderly beauty of Dublin.' A new edition of the novel will be published in March by Vintage with an introduction by Declan Kiberd.

 

Dublin is also the setting for the posthumously rediscovered short story 'Something Special'. Traversing the city in both these works, Murdoch's characters move on a map dotted with familiar landmarks: St Stephen's Green, the Guinness brewery, the Big Tree pub on Dorset Street, Dun Laoghaire pier, the Martello towers, and the mail boat calmly coming and going through it all.

 

Watery images abound in the movie Iris, evoking the writer's lifelong love of swimming and giving the film a beautiful dramatic continuity. What the film doesn't mention is that Murdoch's very first memory was of learning to swim with her father in the saltwater baths at Dun Laoghaire. Murdoch's father also swam at the Forty Foot, and swimming was, according to Peter Conradi, 'the secret family religion'.

 

Nor does the film hint at another of Conradi's insights. Towards the end of her life, as Murdoch grew more befuddled with the developing Alzheimer's disease, she would occasionally disconcert people with the sudden question 'Who am I?' No sooner had she asked the question, however, than she would answer herself, 'I'm Irish anyway, that's a start'.

 

The film Iris is on general release

 

 

Feb 15 -- From the Boston Herald:

 

Judi Dench Eagerly Tackles Novel Role

By Stephen Schaefer


LONDON - In the world of movies, there are few Oscar-winning stars with the down-home matter-of-factness of Judi Dench.
And in this world, there are few with Dench's imperial majesty.

 

With her pixieish haircut, modest stature (she's 5-feet 3-inches) and world-absorbing blue eyes, Dench can become the no-nonsense lesbian auntie Agnes Hamm of ''The Shipping News'' or memorably transform herself into Queen Victoria (her first Oscar nomination in ''Mrs. Brown'') or Queen Elizabeth I (her Oscar turn as Best Supporting Actress in ''Shakespeare in Love).''

 

Now in ''Iris,'' for which Dench received a Best Actress nomination Tuesday, she tackles a woman of majesty with words: British novelist Iris Murdoch whose books such as ''A Severed Head'' were bestsellers and critical favorites.

 

''Iris,'' which opens today, is not a story of Murdoch's literary triumphs, although it alludes to them, as much as it is a portrait of the decades-long love affair between Murdoch and her eccentric husband, the seven-years-younger poet and critic John Bayley (played by Jim Broadbent, the impresario of ''Moulin Rouge''). It's a love that ends when Alzheimer's disease kills Murdoch's mind long before it killed her at 79.

Kate Winslet plays the young Iris to Dench's doomed, elder Iris in director Richard Eyre's time-shifting story based upon two of Bayley's three memoirs, ''Iris and Her Friends'' and ''Elegy for Iris.''

 

''It's not a movie about a tragedy. It's a movie about a love story,'' said Dench, 68. ''Somebody said, 'Why didn't they get people in to help?' We see the doctor telling John, 'You can get people,' and Bayley says, 'No, no, no.' They were totally unique and curiously strange people who found themselves and understood each other. He understood her not wanting somebody there - as she understood his caring about her. I think it's quite a story of survival really, rather than a story of decay.''

 

Dench's road to ''Iris'' began in 1999. She was on Broadway in her Tony Award-winning, Richard Eyre-directed triumph ''Amy's View'' when he mentioned doing the film with her as Iris Murdoch. ''I was a fan of hers,'' Dench said. ''A long time ago a friend of mine appeared in the stage adaptation of Murdoch's blackly comic novel 'A Severed Head.'

 

''Having seen 'Severed Head,' I'd become an avid reader of all her books. So immediately I felt I had a kind of hold on her, knew about her,'' Dench said. ''She also had Anglo-Irish parents, which I have, which I found quite comforting, although I must be the only person in the world who never met her. Certainly the only person in England because she was everywhere.''

 

Dench's real challenge was not an impersonation, but charting the ravages of the five years it took for Alzheimer's to waste a brilliant intellect. ''You have to try to understand a bit about the disease. It minutely creeps up and it does start with just looking at a word - and God, which of us haven't done it - and thinking, 'That looks so strange, that word, it doesn't look that way.'

 

''It starts with such small things, the cracks beginning to show. And Richard Eyre's mother had Alzheimer's and also Jim Broadbent's. So I had an immediate reference with those people. And a friend of mine, a director, a very clever man, has just got it, too - so I've seen that. Perhaps just saying, 'What was I saying?' I find myself doing it all the time. I do the London Times crossword every day. I think, 'Do the crossword. Learn your parts. Do something every single day.'''

 

Dench mimes doing the crossword as she sits for an exclusive interview in the legendary Savoy Hotel. The splendid drawing room, with Dame Judi seated in an armchair that has been plopped in the middle of the antique furnishings, brings to mind an audience with a royal, a completely unpretentious, down-to-earth royal.

 

What's also a bit eerie about ''Iris,'' which charts the end of a long, loving marriage, is that it echoes what happened in Dench's life. Her 30-year marriage to actor Michael Williams ended with his death last year from cancer. The marriage, which produced a daughter, was regarded in show-biz circles as particularly well-matched.

 

Since then, she has embarked on a furious nonstop work schedule, filming ''The Shipping News,'' ''The Importance of Being Earnest'' (due for summer release) and ''Iris'' almost simultaneously, and then returning to the West End in a hit revival of the American comedy, ''The Royal Family,'' before reprising her role as M, head of British intelligence, in the new James Bond 007 picture.

 

''I can't see that ever stopping really,'' she said. ''The thing to do is just get on with it.''

 

 

Feb 15 -- From the Star Tribune:

 

Nothing Like A Dame


The regal Judi Dench now collects most of her honorariums from Hollywood, most recently an Oscar nomination for 'Iris.'

 

A few hours after her fourth Oscar nomination in five years was announced, Judi Dench said she was delighted that her work in "Iris" was honored. Still, she said Tuesday, she doesn't relish the prospect of taking the stage for an acceptance speech. "I'm not a timid person, but I'm nervous of making speeches and all that," she said. "I'm feeling good that I think I won't be getting up from my chair that evening. I'm up against some very, very hot nominees in the shape of Sissy Spacek and Nicole Kidman."

 

Dench, who won an Oscar three years ago as Queen Elizabeth in "Shakespeare in Love," projects none of the steely grandeur that has become her preserve onscreen. She laughs readily and often, reveling in a sense of fun that she rarely is called on to display in films.

 

She admits to enjoying "a rather blue sense of humor." That endeared her to the ribald Scottish comic Billy Connolly, her co-star in the 1997 costume drama "Mrs. Brown." Her role as Queen Victoria jump-started her screen career, and she has been Miramax Studios' Oscar insurance ever since. "I owe a lot to Harvey (Weinstein, the studio's co-founder)," she said. He has cultivated her career "fantastically. I was really only a stage actress up till then."

 

The admiration is mutual. Weinstein has said that any part that could be adapted for Dench would be hers, even if it meant giving the character a sex change. Weinstein had hopes for Dench in "The Shipping News" last fall. When that film misfired, Miramax acquired "Iris," a BBC film. Dench plays novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch in her later years. Kate Winslet plays the young Iris. Their performances fit together seamlessly even though they had no time to coordinate. Dench hurriedly shot her scenes during a five-week hiatus from "The Shipping News." What linked the performances, she said, was watching two tapes of interviews Murdoch had done: "Our common point was Iris Murdoch herself."

 

Dench, 67, busied herself with work last year following the death of her husband and sometimes co-star, Michael Williams. The flurry of activity "was good for me then," she said. "It was good making new friends and being so well-looked-after, which I was." One new friend, Kevin Spacey, roundly criticized Dench after the release of "The Shipping News." She was, he charged, an incorrigible pingpong cheater. "Oh, Kevin is wicked. He only said that 'cause I could beat him," she said.

 

Dealing with Williams' death might have colored her approach to the tragic love story of "Iris," she said. "Because they were different experiences, in a way you try to sieve through it," she said. "You don't apply it directly to your own case because it's so very different. Subconsciously there must have been something there."

 

A greater influence was her co-workers' personal experiences with Alzheimer's. The mothers of director Richard Eyre and co-star Jim Broadbent both had the disease. "Richard wrote the screenplay very much with his mother in mind," Dench said. "He might just say, 'Shall we have another go at it?'" if he felt her interpretation was off the mark.

 

Playing Murdoch, an avid swimmer, meant Dench had to spend long periods of time submerged and even speak lines underwater with air bubbles glugging out of her mouth. Far from being an inconvenience, it was one of her favorite aspects of the role. "That's my element, swimming," she said. "I love it _ except that I wear lenses to see, and I had to take them out. Richard said, 'Swim down toward the cameraman and take Jim's hand.' Well, I couldn't see the cameraman in the water. Nor could I see Jim. It was a matter of luck that I got in touch with him, really."

 

Dench returns to a classic role next, playing opposite Reese Witherspoon in "The Importance of Being Earnest." She said she has no idea how it turned out. She doesn't enjoy watching herself onscreen. "I don't like that at all. I've never seen 'A Room With a View' or 'A Handful of Dust.' You know what it's like if you hear your voice. You know how putting-off that is. Each time I look into a mirror and don't see that I'm a tall, willowy blonde woman in her late 40s, I get horrified. It's hideous. Also I am very, very critical indeed and once it's done and you see it, it's too late to do anything about it. Unlike theater, where you can do it the next night better."

 

On Oscars night, Dench will have one more worry beyond the possibility of having to speak. Her dear friend Maggie Smith and her "Iris" co-star Kate Winslet will be competing for the supporting-actress award. "It's a very tricky position to be in, that," she said. Smith "is a great friend of mine. I'm not even going to open my mouth when that happens," she vowed.

 

 

Feb 12 -- From the Los Angeles Daily News:

 

Fine Madness: Out of Turmoil of Alzheimer's Came the Touching Bio 'Iris'

By Evan Henerson

 

In the late 1990s, when celebrated author Iris Murdoch was slipping into dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease, her academic husband, John Bayley, published "Elegy for Iris," the first of his two collections of memoirs about the couple's life together - dementia included. Murdoch was still alive, although not in a position to answer her husband's account.

 

"It became a bit of a cause celebre,'' recalls British-born actor Jim Broadbent. "There was quite a bit of debate over the publication of the book, whether it was noble or the right thing for him to be doing, while she was still alive and incapable of defending herself.''

 

Broadbent didn't particularly tune into the debate at the time it was happening. Now, knowing Murdoch and Bayley more intimately, he has a very definite opinion over whether the biographical tell-all was seemly. "I think it's entirely appropriate,'' says Broadbent, who plays Bayley in the film "Iris." "He was heroic, looking after her all that time of her illness, doing whatever it took. Part of that was writing it all down, and releasing his own tensions. I'm practically sure that Iris would have approved and sanctioned it. He knew her best, and that's good enough for me.''

 

The two married in 1956, and Murdoch was the love of Bayley's life. The film depicts Murdoch's free-spiritedness in the early part of the relationship. She had lovers, male and female, while Bayley often seemed to be standing powerless and longing in the background.

 

"She was dynamite,'' says Kate Winslet, who plays the young Iris Murdoch. "She was bisexual, she was intellectual, and she was inspiring. But I never really felt she was the kind of woman who was fighting with her own demons. She very much accepted herself for who she was, and she expected others to do the same.''

 

In the film, Bayley comes off as the more conflicted. Of "Iris'" several hard-to-stomach scenes, perhaps none is as quease-inducing as Broadbent's Bayley venting his fury at his comatose, Alzheimer's-stricken wife while the two are in bed: "Well I've got you now, Iris, and I DON'T BLOODY WANT YOU!'' The scene is utterly without pity, and Broadbent soft-pedals nothing.

 

"Iris," directed by Richard Eyre and adapted by Eyre and Charles Wood from Bayley's books, recently reopened at the Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills after an awards-qualifying run in December. Kate Winslet and Judi Dench play the young and older Murdoch, and Hugh Bonneville is the younger Bayley.

 

"Iris'' has already won Broadbent a Golden Globe (Dench and Winslet were also nominated), and Winslet and Broadbent earned best supporting actor awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. The three have a strong chance of hearing their names announced when the Oscar nominations are read this morning.

 

Broadbent listened to Bayley being grilled on a British radio program called "In the Psychiatrist's Chair'' - an interview that constituted the bulk of his research. The interviewer, professor Anthony Clare, probed and attacked, but Bayley didn't take the bait. "He's a very acquiescent and agreeable man, not contentious or arguing,'' Broadbent said of Bayley. "There was great strength in him as well. In the books, there's some reference to his anger. I think that's anger that comes out of the disease rather than with Iris,'' continued Broadbent, who lost his mother to Alzheimer's. "That's frustration and tiredness that comes with being a 24-hour nurse. He clearly was not somebody you'd choose to be your full-on caregiver. He was not one of nature's nurses.''

 

Though it's titled "Iris'' and features two celebrated actresses playing Murdoch as a younger and older woman, the film is as much Bayley's story as it is Murdoch's. The film depicts an unconventional love story between a free spirit and the rumpled academician who worshipped her, only to lose her to a devastating, dignity-robbing illness. Dench, equally unflinching, is reduced to dithering disorientation through much of the movie, on more than one occasion driving her husband crazy. Broadbent and Dench had never met prior to just before filming began. Both had worked with director Eyre on the London stage, and the pairing turned out to be a solid match. "We had a very similar approach to the work and a similar sense of humor,'' said Broadbent. "And it was a very funny job. When we weren't actually doing the work, there was almost a level of hysteria sometimes.''

 

Come again? Hysteria on a film where one of the great literary minds of the 20th century is reduced to watching the Teletubbies. "The scene we rehearsed on the first day, we call it the 'it's only the postman' scene,'' said Broadbent. "As a comic sort of construction, it's a very funny scene, somebody barging up to you saying, 'It's only the postman, its only the postman.' If you see the scene for what it is and forget that it's the degenerative fatal illness, it's a comic thing.''

 

The older couple weren't the only ones having fun. "Iris" gave "Titanic's" Winslet the opportunity to shed her clothes and get wet once again (Murdoch was a swimmer). It was Winslet's first time back in front of a camera since the birth of her daughter, Mia, in October 2000. Even though it was a supporting role, Winslet said the the decision to accept the assignment was a no-brainer. "There's something about it that is so sort of universally appealing,'' Winslet said. "Although it's about Iris Murdoch, it seems to be about so many other things, like living life to the full. I've always felt, from the first day, that it's not about a woman dying. It's really a true love story.''

 

One day during filming, Winslet happened to noticed a little old man wearing a flat cap that all but covered strands of unruly white hair. Winslet said she took one look at the real John Bayley and said, "I know who you are. He's the sweetest, cuddliest little man, and he took a bit of a shine to me,'' said Winslet. "When he acknowledged me, he said, 'You're rather lovely, you are.' ''

 

And just in case a strong script, challenging themes and the prospect of being ogled by John Bayley weren't enticement enough, Winslet had another reason to join "Iris.'' "I was asked to play the young Judi Dench,'' says Winslet. "You do not, unless you are completely deranged, say no.''

 

 

Jan 8 -- Kate spoke about working on IRIS with a BBC News correspondent. The interview is posted on a separate page.

 

 

Dec 23 -- The Sunday Times has a nice profile of IRIS co-star Jim Broadbent. Following is the section about IRIS:

 

Iris casts him in the lead role of John Bayley, the husband of the novelist Iris Murdoch, played by Dame Judi Dench. Based on the first two books of Bayley's mildly controversial memoirs, the film traces the decline of one of the 20th century's greatest writers through Alzheimer's disease. It has all the ingredients of a thoroughly depressing tale, but the skilful weaving of flashback and present tense and the impressive cast, which includes Kate Winslet as the young Iris, make it a moving, vibrant film. When John Bayley saw it, he was heard to mutter 'Brilliant' at the close.

 

As with all his roles, Broadbent researched the character diligently, reading Bayley's memoirs and Murdoch's books - which previously he'd thought were 'more my parents' generation' - and listening repeatedly to Bayley's interview with Anthony Clare on Radio 4's In the Psychiatrist's Chair. 'I delved a bit and thought I could have a stab at it,' he says, though he admits he did have some reservations about a part that cast him as a 77-year-old.

 

'Once you start investigating real people they are complicated, contradictory and bizarre, and they are often very much more interesting than a fictional character,' he says, smiling at the oddness of Bayley's personality. Some of his peculiarities seemed beyond the realms even of fiction. 'If John was a fictitious character, I'd have had a hell of a time persuading Richard [Eyre, the director] that he really did have a stutter as bad as he does,' says Broadbent, lapsing for a moment into character. 'We had to tone that down. And his clothes sense too, that was very understated in the adaptation.'

 

The film echoed a period in Broadbent's own life that had made him familiar with the frustration and sadness of seeing someone in terminal decline. His mother died from Alzheimer's, and he was impressed with Dench's portrayal of the disease. 'Some of the scenes that Judi did were absolutely extraordinary,' he says. 'She reminded me so much of my own mother; it's a look, a feeling. It's indescribable, really. There's a blankness but something more; there's a strange quality to it, an ambiguity which really comes across.' In particular, the constantly repeated questions struck a chord: 'My mother was always asking, 'When are we going, when are we leaving?' I think it's one of the symptoms of the disease. She repeated it and repeated it, endlessly repeated it.' Was it painful for him to relive the memory of seeing someone fade away? 'It reminded me obviously of my own mother,' he says guardedly, 'and it was touching in a way, but I wouldn't say painfully so.'

 

An impervious air hangs over Broadbent, masked by polite amiability. He is shy and modest: there is a sense of utter amazement that anyone should be in the slightest bit interested in him. His trade is to interpret and mimic the foibles and characteristics of others, but it is clear, right from the start, that he finds expressing himself unbearably difficult.

 

 

 

Dec 10 -- Thanks to David A. for sending me the link to this article:

 

Of Love and Death, and the Flowering of a Film Called 'Iris'

By David Gritten, Special to the Times

 

SOUTHWOLD, England -- This sleepy eastern seaside resort is a favored destination for senior citizens, who like its tranquillity, its handsome Victorian architecture and the flavor of gentler times it evokes. The older brigade is out in force on this early May day, although a chill easterly wind is cutting in from Scandinavia. The pale sun peeks through the clouds just often enough to make it worth braving the elements.


An elderly couple, huddling together to keep warm as they wait at a bus stop, are typical. She wears a head scarf, a worn winter coat and, in an eccentric touch, ankle socks over her hose. Tufts of wiry white hair spring wildly from beneath his flat cap; he is a vision in beige, from his faded raincoat to his pants and shoes. They fit so perfectly with the environment that it's a shock to see film cameras turned on them. In reality, they are two of England's most celebrated actors. She is Dame Judi Dench, the stage veteran who in recent years has become an Oscar-night favorite for her work in "Mrs. Brown," "Shakespeare in Love" and "Chocolat." He is Jim Broadbent, a hugely experienced, versatile performer who effortlessly shifts among theater, TV and film; he made a notable appearance in "Moulin Rouge" as the club owner with a show-stopping turn singing Madonna's "Like a Virgin."


Although dressed to look like Mr. and Mrs. Average, Dench and Broadbent are playing a renowned couple: the late Dame Iris Murdoch, a philosopher of note and one of the most cerebral and influential British novelists of the post-World War II era, and her husband, John Bayley, an Oxford University academic. The film (which opens Friday in limited release) is "Iris," based on Bayley's touching, best-selling books "Iris" and "Iris and Her Friends," detailing their last years together, when Murdoch's brilliant intellect was ravaged by Alzheimer's disease.
The books captured the imagination of the British reading public with their tender, matter-of-fact and even humorous treatment of the way Murdoch's affliction affected the couple. "Iris" may have a low budget (around $5 million), but its pedigree is distinguished.

 

Its director is Richard Eyre, making his first feature film since stepping down as artistic director of London's National Theatre in 1997. Eyre has written the script, along with playwright Charles Wood. The film's two producers are the American film and theatrical producer Scott Rudin and Englishman Robert Fox, primarily a theater producer who launched Dench's 1998 Broadway triumph as the star of "Amy's View." The rest of the cast also demonstrates strength in depth; Kate Winslet plays the younger Murdoch in flashback scenes, while Hugh Bonneville ("Notting Hill") is the young Bayley.


When a character in a film script falls ill, it presents pitfalls, as Eyre acknowledged. "It's so not intended to be a film about illness. It's a film about a relationship, and the illness is just something that happens to the relationship. The idea was to make a film about love, enduring love and the mutability of love, and at the same time, someone losing their mind."


"Iris" has a personal resonance for Eyre and Broadbent, both of whom lost their mothers to Alzheimer's. "Sadly, I didn't need to do any research for this story," said Broadbent. "My mother's death was part of the reason I was drawn to the script. It was clearly very accurately written, a very honest description of the disease... Oddly, it's not all bleak and it's not all dreadful. There's a lot of humor and love generated by the disease, in a strange way." Eyre's mother died nine years ago, but, he said, "I didn't take on [the film] thinking in some way it would be on behalf of my mother. I just thought, well, that's a subject I know a lot about. And it's been less distressing than I thought.... I wouldn't say it hasn't brought back memories, but it's possible to objectify them becoming part of the work."


What Eyre found difficult was the logistics of shooting the film in seven weeks, including five specific weeks when Dench was available between stints of shooting "The Shipping News" in Newfoundland. "Of course, it does concentrate the mind wonderfully."


Yet "Iris" was originally planned as a big-budget studio picture. Sony bought the rights to Bayley's books, and studio chairman John Calley quickly approached Dench to play Murdoch. "She's perfect casting, it goes without saying," observed producer Fox. "She expressed interest from that moment and remained committed to it through its ups and downs."


Eventually, Sony put "Iris" into turnaround, which Fox believes was actually a blessing: "It's not really a studio film. It's a film that needs to be made for a price, and if a studio was involved you'd never be able to make it for that price. Now people are doing it because they want to, not because it's a payday."


Calley had already asked Richard Eyre to write and direct "Iris." When the studio dropped it, Miramax, Intermedia and Britain's BBC picked up financing for the film. Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient," "The Talented Mr. Ripley") also became involved. "It could have been hard, with seven producers involved," Eyre reflected. "That's about six more than desirable. There was a nail-biting few months, seeing if the film would get off the ground. But in the writing of the screenplay, I got a lot of expert advice, especially from Scott and Anthony... The other side of a low budget is you get to make the film you want. All the people involved are bright, so there's no crass intervention. No one for a moment has suggested the film should be anything else but what it is."


"I never met Iris Murdoch," Judi Dench said flatly. "I only wish I had." She has finished the scene with Broadbent, having climbed aboard a bus and bid farewell to an old friend of the couple (played by English stage actress Penelope Wilton) whom she clearly does not recognize. Dench too has retired to the relative warmth of her trailer, and is pondering the notion that her casting seems perfect. "I don't know about that," she said finally. "This is certainly the hardest thing I've ever done. So many people knew Iris Murdoch. I was a great fan of her novels a long time ago. It's a wonderful love story, and I've watched masses of tapes of interviews with her. I've talked to a lot of people who have known her, so you get a kind of distillation of her, I hope. It comforts me to know she's Anglo-Irish, like me. You can't hope to be her. All I can do is to give the essence."


Part of Dench's challenge stems from the novelist's lack of mannerisms: "She was an extraordinary philosopher and writer, wonderful with words, but she didn't speak in a dramatic way. She didn't throw her head back and deliver. Hers was a contained way of speaking, no stresses on words and no gestures. She needed to use just the right words, which was what made it terrible when the Alzheimer's started."


Dench had expected it would be harrowing to play Murdoch in decline. "In fact, I've managed to be--objective isn't quite the word--but when you have a feeling about something, you can use it as an actor. Grief produces incredible adrenaline, and in a way this is running the adrenaline out. It's a use for a whole lot of emotions."


She was alluding to two separate issues here--Murdoch, and her own bereavement since the death earlier this year of her longtime husband, actor Michael Williams. Dench threw herself into work, accepting roles in three films: "Iris," "The Shipping News" and a new British production of "The Importance of Being Earnest." "I don't know what I'd have done otherwise," she said.


Broadbent said he had not sought to meet Bayley, although he had listened to him on tape and managed to approximate Bayley's trademark stutter. "After a while it might not have been helpful to meet him," he mused. "The performance will be more like me than him, anyway. It's my body. And I'm taller."
Fox added that Bayley had read the script and made suggestions, which had been adopted. "John and I have met, talked and corresponded," Eyre confirmed. "He's been encouraging and supportive, nothing but enthusiastic."

 

Murdoch's biographer and friend, the academic Peter Conradi, has visited the set. "He was moved by seeing Judi and Jim," Eyre said. "He said he thought they were the essence of Iris and John."
All the elements in "Iris" look promising, but it remains a low-budget film being shot in less than ideal conditions. For the next scene, the crew decamped across a narrow stretch of water (a single rowboat served as their ferry) to an isolated house with a wooden balcony, set facing the sea. Dench, Broadbent and Wilton would complete a funny conversational scene inside.


Because it was a night scene and the crew arrived in mid-afternoon, the windows were darkened with a huge expanse of black canvas, which proved troublesome. The wind was becoming fiercer by the minute, and the canvas kept coming loose. Finally an assistant director ordered everyone on set without a task to stand in a row and hold down the canvas while the actors spoke their lines inside.
"This tells you all you need to know about the British film industry," one observer snorted derisively. And in truth, there was an element of farce in the proceedings. In the wrong hands, everyone on set agreed, the story of Murdoch's last years could make a perfectly awful film. But the script by Eyre and Wood has a poetic, haunting, literary quality and does the subject justice.


"It's about love and Iris' philosophy of it," mused Dench. "So how do you get that on film? Certainly, Jim and Hugh Bonneville look uncannily alike. And if the same [resemblance] can work between Kate and me, you never know, we might have something." Modestly, Dench leaves herself out of the equation. But observers on set who have seen the dailies are astonished by the quality she brings to the role. "I don't think anyone will have seen Judi in anything quite like this," said Fox. "They won't have seen the scope, the range she's able to show in this film, which is staggering. Even when she's not saying anything, it's extraordinary what she manages to convey without words. It's truly remarkable."

 

 

 

Dec 9 -- Thanks to Allan for sending me this article from the Mail on Sunday:

 

How Iris Taught Kate The Secret Of True Love

 

Kate Winslet showed off her new man at a very special movie premiere this week. Did her role as the passionate dame of literature bring the couple together?

By Roger Lewis

 

How does one dramatise a writer's life? They don't do much except sit and scribble, with occasional interruptions to watch daytime TV or fetch a few more crates from the off-license. For every rugged Hemmingway there'll be a thousand Philip Larkins stamping books in the library.

 

With a lady novelist, however, you can go for glamour and pass her off as posh totty. And this is what they've done to my late friend Iris Murdoch, played by Kate Winslet in a new film based on her life with author John Bayley.

 

But Winslet, it seems, also had her own very personal motives for taking the role of the young author, played by Judi Dench later in life. The 25-year-old Titanic star, who split from husband Jim Threapleton in September, weeks after completing work on Iris said: 'The film is not only a wonderful insight into someone once described as England's most intelligent woman, but it is also an incredibly powerful, moving love story about two young people who were completely devoted to each other and depended on each other. At the same time they were completely independent, and were such individuals.

 

'One thing that can be said of true love is when you love somebody, you don' t want them to change. You want them to be who they are and for them to be free - and that's what they had.'

So was it especially poignant that at the premiere of Iris in Manhattan this week, Kate made her first public appearance with her new boyfriend, director Sam Mendes?

 

Kate may think she has learned about true love from Dame Iris, but I wish the novelist was still around to give her a stiff tutorial on matters of the heart. I'd have liked to hear her pronounce on how Winslet broke up her marriage and disrupted the rearing of her baby. Murdoch was, after all, fascinated by the power of money and fame, its misuses and its responsibilities. As is well known, Dame Iris was a victim of Alzheimer's, which killed her in 1999. What more cruel fate for such a brilliant woman than she should lose her mind?

 

Her husband John Bayley's three volumes of memoirs, chronicling the fear and hopelessness of dementia, form one of the most moving and candid love letters in the language. Bayley crisscrossed his account of caring for his increasingly doolally old wife with a magical evocation of how they met and married in post-war Oxford.

 

The film, which arrives in the UK on January 11, derived from Bayley's writings and also strived to contrast a young couple falling in love with a decaying old couple staying in love.

 

For director Richard Eyre, the key to the story was Bayley's solicitude. 'It was an extraordinary selfless act of love to look after Murdoch, and I found that tremendously moving. There was a major shift in their relationship, from being dominant to her being completely dependent on John.'

 

From the moment I first read Bayley's work, I knew it would make a marvellous film. For a start, actors adore doing illnesses, and Dame Judi Dench's portrayal of Alzheimer's is certain to win great critical acclaim.

 

The film begins with the characters swimming underwater. Kate bubbles to the surface in the buff and her nipples, I can report, are as big as Eartha Kitt 's head. I could have watched her frolic for hours. She has a brashness and a happy-go-lucky sexiness, but does she make a convincing Murdoch? The Iris I knew was frowny and intense with a darkness to her vivacity. She smiled sparingly - and her smiles were all the more special for it.

 

Kate's conception of her character as a fun-loving young thing comes across as airheaded. This is not how most people would define an Oxford Fellow in Philosophy. Kate's idea of Iris seems to confuse love and freedom with selfishness and possession, and this seems a dilemma in her own life, too.

 

Dench's Murdoch also has autobiographical overtones. The shoot was soon after the funeral of her husband of 30 years, actor Michael Williams. And when discussing Iris's marriage, she is describing her own: 'They totally understood each other and people talk of them always laughing. They were like two halves of an apple.'

 

Murdoch and Dench, frankly, could have been sisters, though they never met. They have similar backgrounds and share a kindly decorum and twinkling goodness (they should have been abbesses), yet beneath the sense of distance, a lurching romanticism.

 

Murdoch's emotions were processed in her novels, while Dench's warmth and humanity suffuse her characters. The main differences are that Judi is elfin and light, whereas Iris got to be quite a lump, and Judi enjoys her wardrobe, while Iris used to be mistaken for a bag lady. 'She had a pride about not caring,' says Dench, astutely.

 

When I first saw the film, I said I'd watched two hours of Judi Dench wetting herself. It isn't quite that squalid, but the filmmakers don't stint on showing you the loss of control over bodily functions - the way Alzheimer 's makes you a scuttling, panic-stricken animal.

 

Yet in Bayley's books the point is that 'even when Iris was ill, she was recognisably almost herself', and I'm not sure this comes across in the film. Dame Judi does a lot of staring into space. We don't ever see Murdoch' s fire and intellectual energy. We should have seen her duelling about metaphysics after several bottles of Cabernet and singing music hall songs.

 

And it is a tragedy that Michael Williams couldn't have played the mature Bayley. Jim Broadbent is a fine character actor, but his growling performance is too robust and imposing. For Bayley we needed somebody more Hobbit-like, pockets filled with biscuits filched from High Table, not this lumbering, nutty professor.

 

The young Bayley, however, is perfect. Hugh Bonneville steals the picture as he smiles and stammers through romantic agony. 'I instinctively knew the tone,' he says. 'John couldn't believe Iris was interested in him. He never quite understood her.'

 

I think he did, though. Bayley's fey, epicene quality was always a tease. He knew way before her illness that he was Iris's stability, and in this film (as in reality), he's the most interesting figure, with a will to survive and a tenacity to find love and hang on to it.

 

Bayley - who couldn't tell Dench and Murdoch apart when shown stills from the picture - confesses that he shed more tears watching the film than going through the events 'because it represented so well what it was like. A work of art does move one more than things do in life,' was his astoundingly generous response to a movie that, in the end, had me crying too.

 

 

Dec 9 - The New York Times includes this article written by Iris's husband:

 

Art, Life and Love: Seeing Iris in 'Iris'

By John Bayley

 

Seeing myself and Iris on the screen was not an emotional experience, but a purely aesthetic one. "How well they have done us," I thought.

 

"Iris," a film based on John Bayley's memoirs about the life and death of his wife, the British writer Iris Murdoch, opens Dec. 14 in New York and Los Angeles.

 

When I was young I was briefly in love with the swimming star Esther Williams, not because of her swimming, which didn't mean much to me, not on account of her magnificent figure, but because she seemed to me to have such a kind face. That was a long time ago, and in any case I could have been quite wrong about her, though the idea of a kind face at the movies - surely something of a rarity, then as now - is one that for me has never entirely lost its appeal.

 

Iris had such a face. She had a kind face that went with her nature, and in some way this came through on the faces of the actresses who were performing her role and her story in the film that has just been made about her.

 

To be a really accomplished actor you must not only act the part: you must become for the moment whatever person in the story, the play or the film you are supposed to be. In the old days of the star system this hardly applied, at least not to the cinema, because their public simply and avidly wanted the stars to be themselves - to be the fabulous Greta Garbo or Rudolph Valentino. The fans were not so much interested in the way they performed, the role they were supposed to be playing. The same was even true of the old stage, and it is still sometimes true of present-day performers and performances of Shakespeare. The audience that went to see Garrick, or in our time a great actor like Gielgud or Olivier, was not greatly interested in the subtleties of interpretation. I left the theater convinced that Richard III or Hamlet was in fact the great actor who had just played him. The actor replaced, in the past, the character whom he was acting.

 

It is true there were always some interesting exceptions. The great actor Kean was unknown and invisible as himself, but he electrified an audience when he appeared as Lear or Macbeth. Even his contemporary, the famous Mrs. Siddons, was a nonperson until she opened her mouth. It is said that when buying handkerchiefs once, she asked the salesperson, "Will they wash?" - whereupon the girl burst into tears, so tragic, and so emotionally transfixing, were Mrs. Siddons's thrilling tones. (After she had gone mad and died as Lady Macbeth, she is said to have left the theater to give her children their supper. She had no interest in how the play was ended, and in fact she never bothered to find out.)

 

But all this is a far cry from cinema today, and from actors and actresses in the film "Iris," some of which I watched being made, and which I have now seen in London at a private viewing, along with Audi, my wife, and Ed Victor, the agent who looked after Iris so well for many years and now looks after me.

 

Judi Dench and Kate Winslet, who play Iris old and young, are both fine actresses and personalities in their own right, but in the film they have successfully become someone quite different. I do not know if they have kind faces in real life - I'm sure they have - but certainly on the screen they looked like Iris, and their faces were Iris's kind face.

 

Judi Dench is of course justly famous for the way she has recreated on film the great personalities of the past - Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria - the same art that great actors performed on the stage. Creating or recreating a contemporary figure is something more than a little different; but such good actresses as these managed to identify with the part of Iris, without, as it were, having to make their own version of it, in their own way, as Olivier, for instance, made his own interpretations both of Hamlet and Othello. I recognized Iris in Judi Dench, just as I certainly recognized what Iris used to be, more than 40 years ago, in the performance by Kate Winslet. But in neither case was I disturbed by the resemblance, or by a feeling that somebody quite new and unfamiliar was being created by actresses on film.

 

This was important to me, because I had been worried when I heard they were going to make the film that whatever Iris was like in it, she might only be a sort of parody of the Iris that I had known so well for half a century. Alzheimer's disease, as I had come to know very well, can have dire effects on the human personality, but during the more than five years Iris suffered from it, and I looked after her, she remained for me exactly as she had always been - the terrible symptoms seemed not to touch her look, her smile, or the nature which I had always known, although I could often see the pity, the alarm and concern and even the fear, on the faces of friends who were seeing her for the first time since she had become ill.

 

My reluctance at first to have anything to do with the film came from my own fear that I should be seeing an Iris who was not in the least like the real Iris, the Iris whom I knew, and that in consequence it was bound to be a painful experience. It happens all the time that one sees a film which is based on a real person, or a famous figure from fiction who may in their own way be just as "real.'' My reaction very often is "But that's not Anna Karenina'' or "But I'm sure Winston Churchill (or whoever) wasn't a bit like that.''

 

My feelings about Iris as a film were full of gloom and anxiety, but I was greatly relieved to find that I need not have worried. When I saw the film I felt thankful to both actresses, and particularly to Judi Dench, not only for having made such a wonderfully restrained and understanding portrait of Iris when she was ill, but for creating a work of art - one that I could watch and admire; be deeply touched by, too - but one in which my own private emotions were not in the least involved.

 

For art and life are, in the last analysis, quite separate things, and the better the art the more complete the separation. One can sometimes be grateful that it is so. Iris was being transformed, and very successfully transformed, into art - into art which I could enjoy as if I were almost a detached spectator, without feeling the pangs and the sorrows, the joys too, which are the daily accompaniment of remembering the woman I lived with for so long, and looked after when she was ill.

I found myself reading and rereading Iris's last novel, "Jackson's Dilemma,'' written at a time - seven years before she died - when the first premonition of what proved to be Alzheimer's disease must have already touched her. I find myself shedding tears over the last sentences of the book, when Jackson, feeling that his work is finished, says to himself: "I have come to a place where there is no road.''

 

Strangely prophetic words, and I shed tears because the art of the book becomes for me there too like life, moving as the words are. Life and art have come, as if almost by accident, too close together. But where the film was concerned there was, for me at least, no problem. I watched the film and its ending with appreciation, but with dry eyes, because I could see clearly how well it was done and how moving it had become on the screen.

 

Jim Broadbent and Hugh Bonneville, the actors who were playing me, old and young, gave me quite a turn at first, but I soon got used to it. They were not me, just as Judi Dench and Kate Winslet were not Iris, but I enjoyed seeing how they set about being me, so to speak, and found myself admiring the way they did it. I am rather short and they are both conspicuously tall men; also they have hair, whereas I am now, and was then, practically bald. But this seemed to make no difference, and I felt a rather absurd vanity in seeing how cleverly they had picked up, by means of recordings and photographs, tricks of speech and behavior which I was myself hardly conscious of possessing. (Judi Dench, who had never met Iris, was equally brilliant at intuiting how she looked when she was ill.) Watching an actor playing oneself tickles the conceit, which is always gratifying. It also made me feel that I could be, or become, quite a different person, if I wanted to. Seeing myself and Iris too on the screen was not therefore an emotional experience, but a purely aesthetic one. "How well they have done us,'' I thought. Not "how weird and even threatening it feels to see oneself and one's loved one walking and talking on film.''

 

All this is very solipsistic. Much more important is the film itself, which, thanks to the director, Sir Richard Eyre, is marvelously accomplished and beautifully done in every detail. Richard Eyre is a theater director who has been responsible for many brilliant Shakespeare productions; and his eye for setting, background and composition is superb. As a film, "Iris'' works mainly by flashback, a technique which here never seems to obtrude on the viewer's sense of continuity - what is going on at the present time in the film, and what went on in the past, in happier times. Much use is made in the film of the river imagery in the book, for Iris and I took to swimming in rivers when we fell in love. (Could my old feeling for Esther Williams have had something to do with that?)

 

Iris loved the sea - "The Sea, The Sea'' is the title of one of her best and most haunting novels - but as Oxford is a long way from the sea, about as far as one can get in England, rivers had to be second-best, and Iris came to love them too. Our last swim, with Iris already far gone in the grip of Alzheimer's, is contrasted in the film, as it is in the book, with the first swim we had together in our early days. Both were in the pastoral, easy-flowing Thames, just outside Oxford. Richard Eyre, whose mother had suffered and died from Alzheimer's, understood very well this healing property of water in image and symbol, as he revealed in his highly original choreography of the script.

 

Quite apart from the emotions it raised, I found the film beautiful and exciting to watch. For me, of course, it conjured up distant memories, which was not a painful experience - they were not the memories and the presences which in bereavement return to haunt one every day and every night. The memories that came back to me through the film were healing memories, of water and of sunlight.

Source: New York Times

 

 

Dec 4 -- Dame Judi Dench appeared on the Today show and was interviewed by Katie Couric. Following are transcript and screen captures I have done. Watch video of the interview.

 

Katie: Legendary British Actress Dame Judi Dench is perhaps best known to American audiences for her Oscar-winning performance as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare In Love. Now, she has two films about to hit theaters. This first is The Shipping News, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel. And the other film, Iris, in which she portrays the famous British writer and philosopher, Iris Murdoch, as she struggles with Alzheimer's Disease. (Film clip of Judi and Broadbent) Dame Judi Dench, good morning.

Judi: Good morning.

Katie: So nice to see you again.

Judi: And you.

Katie: Tell me a little bit about Iris Murdoch, who she was. Because maybe people in an American audience wonít know much about her.

Judi: Yes, I think sheís very well known in Britain. And I first saw a play, A Severed Head, which was an adaptation of her book in the 60ís. Two friends of mine were in it, and I was captured by the language in the play and the acting. And so I started to read some of her novels then. So, she was a kind of heroine to me before I was asked to play her.

Katie: She died in 1999, is that right?

Judi: Ah, '99 or '97.

Katie: Right. And despite the fact that you feel as if everybody you know has met Iris Murdoch, you never did.

Judi: No. I must be the only person in England who never met her.

Katie: How challenging was it to play a character who is of our generation, who many people knew? Obviously, youíve played many historical figures in the past, but this must have been a little daunting by comparison.

Judi: It was hugely daunting. Playing Queen Victoria was quite daunting, but there arenít many people left who knew her. [Chuckling] And there are many, many people left who knew and loved Iris Murdoch, and she was kind of a many-faceted person, and know many aspects of her. I just hope Iíve included as many aspects of her as is necessary to present the kind of person she was.

Katie: Well, how did you go about researching that? And did you speak to a lot of her associates and people who knew her well?

Judi: I did speak to a lot of people who knew her well in Oxford. Richard Eyre, who directed the film, also knew her. I read John Bayleyís book on which the whole screenplay was based...

Katie: Itís based on two books, isnít that right?

Judi: Yes.

Katie: And this John Bayley was Irisís husband.

Judi: Yes. I didnít... I chose not to meet him.

Katie: Yeah, why? Why was that?

Judi: Well, because I think if you consider it that you might be in that position, to look at somebody who is about to play somebody who you knew and loved and were very, very close to, you know, you would seek out some kind of denial, I think, in their face. And so I didnít want to do that before I did it. I would like to meet him now. Iíd ask his honest opinion.

Katie: I know, but wouldnít you be a little frightened to ask his honest opinion? I would if I were you.

Judi: Yes, perhaps he might be quite frightened to give it, too [smiling].

Katie: I mean, Ďhow do you think I did playing your wife?í

Judi: I donít think Iíd say that, I think Iíd just sidle by a bit.

Katie: And see what he has to say.

Judi: Yes.

Katie: This is ultimately... I know the subject matter is quite depressing, obviously, how someone succumbs to Alzheimerís Disease and the process. But it is being positioned by Miramax as a love story, and in many ways it is a wonderfully moving love story, isnít it?

Judi: Yes, I donít think itís a film about somebody gently corroding away. I donít think it is that. I think it is about two extraordinarily unique and strange, odd people who found each other and made an amazing marriage.

Katie: Johnís character is played by Jim Broadbent...

Judi: Yes.

Katie: ...whoís so incredible. And itís so nice to see his career on such a roll.

Judi: Isnít it?

Katie: He was in Moulin Rouge, before that Topsy-Turvy.

Judi: Yes.

Katie: So, it must have been fun to perform with him.

Judi: And now he looks very young, and now heís got rid of all that white fluff [chuckling]. Well, I saw him yesterday, and he looks absurd.

Katie: He does?

Judi: Oh, he looks just absurd, he looks like a young man.

Katie: Well, you need to talk to him about that.

Judi: I try not to have anything to do with him anymore [still amused].

Katie: Also, Kate Winslet plays a young Iris.

Judi: Yes.

Katie: And she's so wonderful, as well. Did you have much interaction with Kate on the set? Because it's almost like two different movies.

Judi: We didn't have any interaction at all. We had one day when we crossed over. But what we both did was... Our references were two interviews with Iris Murdoch that we both watched. So, our references were to the real person.

Katie: Well, I absolutely adore Kate Winslet, and I'm sure you probably... I think you're a fan of her work, as well.

Judi: I am a fan of her, yes, I am.

Katie: The movie is Iris. You also have Shipping News coming out soon.

Judi: Yes.

Katie: So, youíve been quite busy yourself.

Judi: Yes, I have. And The Importance of Being Earnest I did, as well.

Katie: Wow.

Judi: Crammed it all in to just a few days.

Katie: Wow, well itís great to see you, and itís a privilege to talk with you, as always.

Judi: Thank you.

Katie: Dame Judi Dench. Take care of yourself. Happy holidays, by the way.

Judi: And to you.

Katie: Thanks for stopping by. [To camera] Iris opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 14th and will open in the rest of the country early next year. And you can see Dame Judi in The Shipping News, which opens in limited release on Christmas Day.

 

 

Dec 2 -- NY Daily News has an interview with Kate about the film:

 

That Winslet Woman

Actress Kate gives a stunningly mature performance in 'Iris'

By Nancy Mills, Hollywood

 

Kate Winslet says she does not look back when she evaluates her career, or wraps up the final details of her impending divorce. "I go for it and have no regrets," she says, her jaw firmly set and her eyes focused intently on her interviewer. "That's my motto. That's also Iris' motto."

 

She is speaking of Iris Murdoch, whose heyday and decline are chronicled in "Iris," this year's actor-driven Oscar candidate from Miramax. Winslet plays Murdoch as a free-spirited prodigy at Oxford and Judi Dench plays her in her 70s as Alzheimer's Disease robs her of her powers.

 

Murdoch is unfamiliar to many Americans, but the Anglo-Irish writer is a legend in Britain. In fact, until her death two years ago, she was frequently described as "the most brilliant woman in England." She lectured on philosophy at Oxford and wrote 26 penetrating, genre-busting novels that have been described as "psychological detective stories portraying complicated and sophisticated sexual relationships."

 

The most intriguing aspect of Murdoch's life was her 43-year marriage to literary critic John Bayley. They lived happily together, without children, until 1997, when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Bayley, who until then had been the subordinate partner, suddenly found himself looking after a woman who was rapidly disappearing into herself.

 

He wrote in his memoirs about their early days: "It's like living in a fairy story. I'm the young man in love with a beautiful maiden who disappears to an unknown and mysterious world every now and again."

 

"Iris clearly didn't regret things or wallow in sad emotions," Winslet says. "She very much got on with it. She always saw the inner beauty in people. I think that's very similar to me."

 

"Iris," directed by Richard Eyre and opening Dec. 14, alternates in time between Bayley's timid courtship of Murdoch at Oxford and his frustrated attempts to preserve some normalcy in the dark days of her decline. As Bayley, whose memoirs are the basis for the film, Hugh Bonneville plays opposite Winslet and Jim Broadbent opposite Dench.

 

"It's a genuine love story about two people who absolutely adored and accepted each other for everything they were," Winslet says. "It's not about Alzheimer's, although that side of the story is simply the tragic truth of what did actually happen to this wonderful woman. It's more about the incredible love, commitment and support that John Bayley gave to her when she was suffering."

 

Although Winslet is on-screen for less than half the film, she imbues her scenes with Murdoch's enormous zest for life. Whether she is arguing a literary point over lunch, swimming naked in a pond or bicycling madly down a country lane with Bayley in pursuit, the dazzling young author is a free spirit.

 

"Iris had an amazing ability to be in touch with her emotions and not judge herself," says Winslet, who watched documentaries about Murdoch and TV interviews and also immersed herself in Bayley's memoirs. "She was really a person who saw the good things in life."

 

It was Eyre's idea to cast Winslet as the young Murdoch. "Kate in some way was like a clone and an alter ego of Judi [Dench]," he says. "They both have an identical spirit, which harmonizes perfectly. Kate's a very mature and thoughtful woman, and her greatest strength is similar to Judi's - her humanity."

 

Winslet was "honored" and "challenged" to share the role with Dench. "We didn't talk beforehand about how we would walk or speak," she says. "But I did watch a couple of scenes that Judi shot so I could get a little sense of what she was doing."

 

"Iris" gave Winslet her first real opportunity to play an fully adult woman. "I play Iris at about 30, and I'm 26," she says. "I've always been told I'm wiser than my years, so I didn't find that so difficult. But I did worry because she's obviously far more intelligent and intellectual than I am. But writing was wonderful and her level of intellect was built into the dialogue."

 

 

 

Nov 30 -- BBC News published an article about the film and its world premiere:

 

One Great Dame Plays Another

 

Dame Judi Dench will be in New York this weekend for the world premiŤre of her latest film, Iris. She portrays the late UK novelist and philosopher Dame Iris Murdoch, who died in February 1999.

 

Iris does not open in the US until 14 December, but Dench's performance has left audiences at preview screenings awed by her talent and generated speculation that she is almost certain to earn an Oscar nomination. By her own admission, Dench found portraying Murdoch was not easy. After she completed shooting the film she said: "It's been hard work, the hardest work I've ever done."

 

Iris is a portrait of the relationship between Iris Murdoch and John Bayley, her literary critic husband, over a period of 40 years from the time they first met in Oxford in the 1950s. The film switches between past and present, focusing on the early days of their romance and more recent times with Murdoch's descent into darkness as she succumbed to Alzheimer's Disease.

 

Praise -- Dench is not the only member of Iris's cast receiving praise. Also expected at the world premiŤre on Sunday night is Kate Winslet, whose portrayal of the young Iris Murdoch has drawn favourable comment. Jim Broadbent who plays John Bayley is also being cited for outstanding work.

 

The picture is directed by Sir Richard Eyre, who co-wrote the screenplay. Although it is a true story, he said: "The film is not a biography, nor is it fiction, but occupies a poetic territory between the two." The screenplay was inspired by memoirs written by John Bayley, who has seen the film and given it his approval. He found Dench's portrayal of his late wife uncanny, saying: "I think she got more and more like Iris as the film unfolds. The thing that you draw out is the image of the little bull, in her walk."

 

Startling -- Much of the film is devoted to Murdoch's decline as Alzheimer's robs her of her mental acuity. Eyre's mother died from the disease and it appears the director has managed to make use of his own personal experience to create a startling and vivid account of Alzheimer's and its progression. In fact some Murdoch fans may find that the film concentrates too much on her final years, and her illness, and not enough on her writing and eccentric philosophy. Eyre sees the focus of the story differently. He has commented that the best subtitle for the film would be Enduring Love. The picture is a testament to Murdoch and Bayley's close relationship, and Bayley's heroic efforts to care for his wife as her health declined.

 

Pedigree -- Although Iris is one of the most powerful films I have seen in recent weeks, its prospects at the US box office prospects remain uncertain. Iris Murdoch is not a well-known figure whose name will resonate with America's prime movie-going audience. But the picture's expected strong reviews, the pedigree of its cast and the fact that it is a compelling emotional tale, which never gets mawkish, brightens its commercial prospects.

 

For Dame Judi the next few weeks could well bring her a heavy dose of cinematic glory. Not only is she winning praise for her role in Iris but she will also be seen in The Shipping News, director Lasse Hallstrom's adaptation of Annie Proulx's bestseller starring Kevin Spacey.

 

Tribute -- But the biggest accolade will come on 9 December in London when Dame Judi, on her 66th birthday, will be feted at a special televised BAFTA tribute. She will hear words of praise from colleagues who have worked with her in film, stage and TV over the last 40 years. December is shaping up to be a real Dame Judi love-fest. Some of the accolades may prove a little excessive, but nobody seems to begrudge the actress - because she possesses such formidable talent.

 

 

 

Nov 28 -- The following article is from the Dec 2001/Jan 2002 issue of Talk Magazine. Thanks to 'joliefemme' for transcribing it:

 

Talking Culture
by Martin Amis

Remembering A Life


Director Richard Eyreís new film, Iris, is an unstinting look at the great English novelist Iris Murdoch, her tragic battle against Alzheimerís disease, and her husband John Bayleyís transcendent love.

"Like being chained to a corpse, isnít it?" This remark was offered to John Bayley by a fellow sufferer in an Alzheimerís marriage. He found himself "repelled" by the simile and didnít care to give it the demolition it deserved. A corpse, we may reflect, has several modest virtues: It is silent, stationary, and, above all, utterly predictable. A corpse, so to speak, has done its worst. In addition, a corpse is not loved, and a corpse will not die.

Very broadly, literature concerns itself with the internal, cinema with the external. In Bayleyís three-volume meditation on his wife, Iris Murdoch, the agony of Alzheimerís is partly eased by the consolations of philosophy, by the elegant and entirely natural detours into Proust, Hardy, Tolstoy, James. Richard Eyreís Iris, on the other hand, for all its subtlety and tenderness, is excrutiatingly raw. As you collect yourself while the credits roll, you find you have developed a lively admiration for cancer.

The Bayleyís were eccentric - "out of center" - in their complementary brilliance (he is a novelist, a quondam poet, a literary critic of effortless fluidity). But they were also famously eccentric in their temperament and habits, and if youíre an American you donít know the type. They are the kind of people who like being ill and like getting old, who prefer winter to summer and autumn to spring (yearning for "gray days without sun"). They want rain, gloom, isolation, silence. "We had no TV of course," writes Bayley, commalessly, and the reluctant acquisition of a radio feels like a surrender to the coarsest modernity. The Bayleyís were further cocooned and united, it has to be said, by their commitment to extreme squalor.


At their place even the soap is dirty. "Single shoes [and single socks] lie about the house as if deposited by a flash flood... Dried-out capless plastic pens crunch underfoot." An infestation of rats is found to be "congenial, even stimulating." Everywhere they go they have to hurdle great heaps of books, unwashed clothes, old newspapers, dusty wine bottles. The plates are stained, the glasses "smeary." The bath, so seldom used, is now unusable; the mattress is "soggy"; the sheets are never changed. And we shall draw a veil over their underwear. On one occasion a large, recently purchased meat pie "disappeared" in the kitchen. It was never found. The kitchen ate it.


One of the unforeseen benefits of having children is that it delivers you from your own childishness: Thereís no going back. John and Iris, naturally, did not toy long with the idea of becoming parents; it was themselves they wished to nurture ("two quaint children" and "co-child" were typical Bayleyisms). This was intimately connected by their embrace of dirt and clutter, a clear example of nostalgie de la boue - literally, homesickness for the mud, for the stickiness and ooziness of childhood, babyhood, wombhood. The plan seemed to work. Professor Bayley and Dame Iris were crustily cruising into a triumphant old age. And then a three-year-old comes to stay, to live, to die. It is Iris Murdoch.


Eyreís movie is devotedly faithful to the main lines of Bayleyís narrative. Yet there is also an undertow of creative defiance. He has taken a highly unusual story about two very singular people - a story saturated with oddity, quiddity, exceptionality - and he has imbued it with the universal. How?


In the Iris books Bayley glides around in time and space, indulging his "intellectual being," in Miltonís phrase, and "those thoughts that wander through eternity." Eyre, characteristically, is direct and rigorous, almost geometrical in his approach. He constructs a double-time scheme of present and past, and lays down a reciprocal rhythm of back and forth, of ebb and flow. Throughout, the film tremulously oscillates between the 1950s, when the two principals are just entering each otherís force fields, and the 1990s and the protracted visit from "the dark doctor": Doctor A.


Thus, in the opening scenes we watch the young Iris riding her bicycle (comfortably outspeeding the more timorous John), her head thrown back in exhilaration, appetite, dynamism; she is rusing forward to meet the fabulous profusion of her talent. Then we fade to elderly Iris, in the chaos of her study, working on what will be her final fiction. In the margin she writes out, again and again, the word puzzled. Puzzled puzzles her; she is puzzled by puzzled. "All words do that when you take them by surprise," says her husband, and in her eyes we see an infinity of fear. "It will win" is the pathologist's prognosis. It will win: Age will win. Eyreís emphasis is very marked. Iris becomes a tale of everyman and everywoman; it is about the tragedy of time.


What scenarists woud call the "back story" is a comedy of courtship. Avital symmetry establishes itself here, because young John is younger than young Iris (28 to her 35), and most decidely the junior partner. He is a lovestruck provincial virgin with a bad stammer. She is a robust bohemian and free spirit; he soon learns "how fearfully, how almost diabolically attractive" she is to all men (and most women). Her numerous lovers are artists and scholars, big brains, dominators. And her greatest resource is the private universe of her imagination. This, though, proves to be Johnís entreť. In at least two scenes Iris "settles" for him, however lovingly. She intuits that domesticity - and the scruffier the better - will liberate her art.


The "front story," the age story, begins with the onset of the disease and spans the five years between diagnosis and death. Soon "the most intelligent woman in England" (Bayleyís plausible evalutation) is watching the Teletubbies with a look of awed concentration on her face. This is now Iris at her best. A clinging, smothering dependence is punctuated by spells of terrifying agitation; she rattles a latch, she bolts, she flees. Alzheimerís is symetrical too, in its way: Each new impoverishment reduces the awareness of loss. It is Johnís sufferings that multiply, and we are not spared his surges of rage, bitterness, and contempt. He had always wanted to possess her mind - her secret. Now as total master, he does possess it. And thereís nothing there.
Certain cerebrovascular disasters are called "insults to the brain." The more beautiful the brain, the more studious (and in this case protracted) the insult. Irisís brain was indeed very beautiful. Returning to her novels, with hindsight, we get a disquieting sense of their extreme innocence and skittishness, their worrying unpredictability. Beneath their painterly opulence runs the light fever of fragility, like an omen.


Eyreís film is built on the cornerstones of four performances. As the young Iris, Kate Winslet is slightly hampered by the conventionality of her good looks, but the seriousness and steadiness of her gaze effectively suggest the dawning amplitude of the Murdoch imagination. Hugh Bonneville and Jim Broadbent portray Bayley quite seamlessly (their stutters must have been calibrated by stopwatch); much more is asked of Broadbent, of course, and it is duly given. As for Judi Dench, as the mature Iris: She is transcendent. I knew Iris; I have respectfully kissed that cunning, bashful, secretive smile. It is as if Dame Judi and Dame Iris were always on a metaphysical collision course. Her performance has the rarest quality known to any art - that of apparent inevitability.


Mariners talk of a turn in the tide as the moment when the waves "reconsider." Over and above its piercing juxtapositions of youth and age, Iris has an oceanic feel, and this provides a further symmetry. Although she never cared for George Elliot, as Bayley notes, Irisís "wholly different plots and begins remind me of Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss saying. ĎI am in love with moistness.í" And "Against Dryness" was one of the more famous of her philosophical essays. The imagery of Eyreís film is against dryness: the lakes and rivers in which John and Iris habitually immerse themselves; the sea, of course (Irisís key novel was The Sea, the Sea); and the rain, the rain, that seemed to hide them from the world. Hold yourself in readiness, too, for the streams of your tears.


Footnote: In the row behind me at the screening of Iris sat John: Professor Bayley. When I staggered up to meet him afterward, it seemed to me that of the dozen of us in the theater John was easily the most composed. He wasnít undone by Iris, as we were. He had already lived it. He alone was perfectly prepared.

 

 

 

November 13 -- The Nov 16 issue of Entertainment Weekly features mentions of Iris in several sections. Thanks to Rebecca for the tip:

Holiday Movie Preview

This movie season, the simple questions will be on the order of How did they get Harry Potter to fly? Answer: computers and blue screens. Now for the hard stuff: How do you boil down the life of Muhammad Ali to two and a half hours? Can you truthfully dramatize the long, fraught marriage of writers Iris Murdoch and John Bayley - or any marriage - on a movie screen?

...These days, fantasy is easy and reality is hard. So while the four films mentioned above [Ali, Iris, Pinero, A Beautiful Mind] are each based on the lives of people who have walked - or still walk - the earth, donít dare call them biopics.

ewnov16.jpg (160948 bytes)...Iris looks to be the most conventional of the four films: a straightforward adaptation of two books by John Bayley about his relationship with the renowned British author of such prickly, intelligent novels as A Severed Head and The Green Knight. And yet itís the story of a marriage, captured both in youth (when Murdoch and Bayley are played by Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville) and at the end, when Murdoch is suffering from Alzheimerís disease (and the couple is played by Dame Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent.) But who can claim to know the secret language of any long-term couple?

Not director Richard Eyre, who often spoke with Bayley, got his blessing on the screenplay, but chose not to work closely with the author. "None of us can play God with authority," says Eyre, a veteran of British stage and screen. "My obligation is not to traduce the experience of the people on whom itís based, not to trivialize it, and not to misrepresent it. But we donít know what truthfully goes on between anyone in a relationship that lasts 30, 40 years."

If itís an inherently absurd task for screenwriters and directors to boil a life down to a past jewel of simulated reality, how much harder is the actorís task? A fictional character is open to endless interpretation, but a real-life human is rooted in the physical immediacies of voice, bearing, and personality. Can an actor hope to use makeup and mimicry to get at the substance of a person? Or is mere imitation a dead end?

...For Judi Dench, who has Queens Elizabeth and Victoria on her resume, books and questions work fine. "What youíve got to do, I think, is read up as much as you can, to understand what motivated her," she says of capturing Iris Murdoch. "Iíve seen people with Alzheimerís. I never stopped talking to people about her. And it all goes into a sort of an inner computer." And then? For Dench, the actual process came down to communing with an old photo of Murdoch: "I found that, with all the things Iíd stored up in this personal computer, just glancing at that picture was enough to start a chain of some kind of life of her inside me."

...When does the challenge end? Given the karmic alchemy needed to wear another personís psyche, do any of these actors have a problem putting their own shoes back on? Many insist they donít; theyíre professionals, after all. "Oh, thereís no confusion at all," says Dench. "It is, when it comes to it, a job."

The Holiday Movie Preview Calendar

December 14

IRIS -- Apparently, late novelist-philosopher Iris Murdoch was such a juicy role that the makers of her biopic had to cast not one but two capital-A Actresses in the role: Kate Winslet as the young Murdoch and Dame Judi Dench as the older Murdoch, who faced the ravages of Alzheimerís disease in her last years.

And The Nominees Could Be

The Emmys might have been hampered by the events of Sept. 11, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences insists the Oscars will go on as planned. "Weíre committed to the safety of our guests," says spokesman Ric Robertson, "and weíll be in Hollywood come March." Does that mean we can start obsessing about who is going to be nominated? Absolutely. As the holiday movie season usually provides the majority of candidates, weíve conferred with strategists to compile this preliminary rundown of what the playing field looks like in the six major categories.

Best Actress: Nicole Kidman has not one but two shots (The Hours or Moulin Rouge)... Top candidates include... Sissy Spacek as In The Bedroomís tormented New Englander, Julianne Moore as The Shipping Newsí single mom, Michelle Pfeiffer as a lawyer disconnected from her son in I Am Sam, and The Deep Endís devoted parent Tilda Swinton. A slew of women are carrying their own films: Cate Blanchett as a war heroine in Charlotte Gray, Audrey Tautou as the mischievous romantic in Amelie, Renee Zellweger for Bridget Jonesís Diary, and Judi Dench as Alzheimerís-sticken novelist-philosopher Iris Murdoch in Iris. Less orthodox choices may be Charlotte Rampling (Under The Sand), Stockard Channing for the sexual-politics black comedy The Business of Strangers, Halle Berry for the Southern drama Monsterís Ball, and Mulholland Drive breakout Naomi Watts.

With deserving performers often emerging late in the game - hey, who was talking about Benicio Del Toro at this point last year? - the supporting categories are often the hardest to predict before films have been seen.

Best Supporting Actress: When it comes to this category, the yearís films seems to be sprouting contenders in pairs. The Royal Tenenbaums has previous Oscar winners Anjelica Houston and Gwyneth Paltrow; Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz play Tom Cruiseís lovers in Vanilla Sky; and Dianne Wiest and Laura Dern appear opposite Penn in I Am Sam.

From across the ocean, five-time nominee (and two-time winner) Maggie Smith could earn a new nod for either Robert Altmanís Gosford Park or Harry Potter and the Sorcererís Stone. Thereís also Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan, who plays The Othersí creepy housekeeper, and Kate Winslet, the younger Ms. Murdoch in Iris. Oddly, Winsletís competition could include Iris costar Judi Dench, who will receive a supporting-actress push for The Shipping News. Shut out last year after a sterling performance as a heroin addict in Requiem for a Dream, Jennifer Connelly may score Academy recognition with A Beautiful Mind. Past Best Actress victor Frances McDormand makes a play to return to the podium with The Man Who Wasnít There, while Marisa Tomei - coming back to the category that made her a winner - could earn a slot for In The Bedroom.

[Jim Broadbent is tipped as a possibility in the Best Supporting Actor category.]

 

 

 

September 9 -- From the NY Times:

 

"'Iris': The Decline and Fall of a Writer's Mind, Charted by a Master," By Matt Wolf

 

Southwold, England -- Judi Dench, playing Iris Murdoch, is crouched forward on a windy beach, placing pebbles on some pages torn from a notebook in order to stop them from flying off in the coastal gusts. Her lips pursed in steely, unspoken determination, this Dame Iris barely pauses to respond when her husband, John Bayley (played by Jim Broadbent), approaches with a family friend to ask Dame Iris to autograph a copy of "Jackson's Dilemma," her final novel.

As enacted by Dame Judi, Dame Iris grabs at her own book, showing no recognition whatsoever. She scrawls something indecipherable and then tosses the novel dismissively onto the sand - as the actress's eyes go blank.

At that point Richard Eyre, who is directing "Iris," calls "Cut" and everyone on the set of the screen story about the distinguished writer, who died in 1999 of Alzheimer's disease, goes briefly silent. A few people - including Mr. Eyre and the film's producers, Scott Rudin and Robert Fox - blink away tears.

"It was the empty eyes," said Tor Belfrage, Dame Judi's agent and longtime friend, when onlookers once again felt able to speak. The momentary expressionlessness, said Ms. Belfrage, "made me feel quite shaky ó though what's amazing is that Judi comes back to being Judi immediately."

True to form, minutes later, Dame Judi was chatting animatedly, laughing about the Suffolk chill that found her wearing three layers of thermals under a sort of smock, her feet covered only in sandals. (The look, complete with disheveled wisps of hair, might be characterized as Murdoch bohemian.) "I think Iris had no kind of pride," said the actress, who is 66, "or maybe she had a pride about not caring." In any case, Dame Judi added, glancing with a smile at her unaccustomed bulk, "it's very nice when you get out of all this and you think, ĎGood gracious, look who's here!' "

In addition to Dame Judi and Mr. Broadbent, the film stars Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville (who played the stockbroker who fails to recognize Julia Roberts in "Notting Hill") as Iris and John in the 1950's, when the couple first met. Mr. Eyre's script, written with Charles Wood, moves back and forth between the decades - the young Iris who, in the words of Ms. Winslet, "was a full-blooded, very bullish bisexual intellectual," and the Iris of later renown, sadly prey to perhaps the cruelest affliction that can beset a writer.

All the principals were on location one blustery afternoon early in May, which happened to be Dame Judi's final day before she was to return to Canada to resume filming "The Shipping News," the Lasse Hallstrom movie opening in December. ("Iris" is not yet scheduled for release.)

But while Dame Judi was cracking jokes to restore her equilibrium, the filmmakers were enumerating the qualities that make one singular British dame the right choice to play another. Dame Judi never met Dame Iris, who was 79 when she died. "Everybody else seems to have done but me," the actress said; still, she found that "there were kind of guy ropes for me." She meant the points of resemblance between the distinguished Dublin-born writer of novels and philosophical treatises and the Yorkshire-born English theater legend whose blossoming as a film actress in the last four years has won her a best supporting actress Oscar (in 1999, for "Shakespeare in Love") as well as two more nominations.

"She comes from an Anglo-Irish background," Dame Judi said of Dame Iris, "which is the same as mine, and she had Quakerism in her immediate family, as I do: quite small points like that. It seems silly to say I was keen on getting it right; I don't really mean that. I was just very concerned that we would tell the story properly, really."

The larger affinities, said Mr. Eyre, are there to be noted as well. "That sort of disinterested humanity is what comes across in all Judi's dealings and illuminates all her performances," he said. Mr. Eyre staged "Amy's View," which brought the actress back to Broadway in 1999 and got her a Tony mere months after her Oscar.

"You do feel a sense of absolute goodness," Mr. Eyre said, "and that, of course, was at the heart of Iris Murdoch's preoccupation as a moral philosopher and as a novelist." (In 1968, she published an elevated mystery called "The Nice and the Good.")

What fascinated Iris," he continued, "was what is good, and what is the meaning of good and of love, and if I had to put a name to love and goodness, Judi Dench wouldn't be a bad description."

Mr. Eyre is a newcomer to feature films who has worked extensively in British television and for nine years ran the Royal National Theater. (His BBC television series, "Changing Stages," which is both a chronicle of and a tribute to theater, is being shown on Sunday nights on Channel 13 in New York.) And if he exalts his star, Mr. Eyre also sounds pleased at last to be making this film, especially since an earlier project, "Mary Stuart," with Glenn Close and Meryl Streep, disappeared when Ms. Streep dropped out several years ago.

It was while he and Dame Judi were rehearsing "Amy's View" in New York that Mr. Eyre first heard of "Iris," which had originally been talked of as a $20 million venture for Sony Pictures, to be produced by John Calley. (That budget, said Mr. Eyre, "always seemed a bit overoptimistic"; this "Iris" is costing a quarter of that amount.)

When Mr. Calley eventually passed on the movie, Mr. Eyre took it to his friend and frequent theater associate Mr. Rudin, who saw "Iris" as an opportunity to reunite some of the team from "Amy's View" while giving a crucial boost in film to a 58-year-old theater director well regarded on both sides of the Atlantic.

"There's something fantastic," said Mr. Rudin, speaking of Mr. Eyre, "about delivering a movie director who's not a child and who brings a mature perspective on the world." Assessing Mr. Eyre's tenure at the National, during which younger colleagues like Stephen Daldry and Sam Mendes were beginning to move toward movies, Mr. Rudin said: "I sort of felt like Richard was owed a shot. All these people whose careers he had really incepted were getting to do movies, and it was his turn; it needed to be his turn." (Mr. Rudin's pipeline to British theater talent remains open: among his other films in post-production is an adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel "The Hours." It's the second film from Mr. Daldry, who had worked for years in the theater before directing "Billy Elliot.")

What everyone connected to "Iris" agreed they didn't want to make was a conventional disease-of-the-week movie. Instead, the aim was to animate the 43-year marriage between Dame Judi and Mr. Bayley (who is now remarried, to Audi Villers, an old family friend) while honoring the grotesque irony of her final illness: that so fearless a communicator and so deft a wielder of language - "at her height," said Mr. Wood, co-author of the script, "the most important writer in England" - should succumb to an illness blocking her ability to do both. Drawing on two of Mr. Bayley's recent memoirs - "Elegy for Iris" and "Iris and Her Friends" - the script shows a couple steeped in one kind of language having to find another beyond words.

For Mr. Eyre, the immediacy of the material was heightened by his having dealt 10 years ago with the death of his mother, who was 72, from Alzheimer's. (Mr. Broadbent also lost his mother to the disease.) "There are moments in the script," he said, "that I observed directly from my mother. She had a very powerful period of violence, and although John would say Iris was never really violent, he slightly contradicts himself by telling stories from which you would have to infer that she was."

Mr. Broadbent said: "The edges of the disease weren't softened in the script; there were no shortcuts taken."

Mr. Bayley, speaking by telephone from his home in Oxford, expressed his own pleasure and surprise that the film was being made. "I never thought they would make it," he said, "because you know how these things are: it goes on and goes on and eventually just quietly fades away." That it has happened, Mr. Bayley added, referring to Mr. Eyre, "is due to that excellent man, whose mother died of Alzheimer's; that had a lot of weight with me, obviously."

Although he was not actively involved in the film and saw only a bit of shooting, Mr. Bayley was sent the script beforehand and was encouraged to comment. "I thought it was very good," he said, "but made one or two suggestions which Richard took quite seriously: matters of detail about Iris's character which I thought they got slightly wrong." Those had to do with the "sorts of things she would or would not say," Mr. Bayley continued, the point being that "even when Iris was ill, she was recognizably almost herself."

That may be why there is something both horrific and heroic in Dame Judi as she charts the title character's simply closing down, her vivacity and keen wit submerged beneath an almost stubborn opacity. "It's uncanny," said Phillida Gili, a visitor to the set who knew the couple well. (Mrs. Gili's daughter, Daisy, 27, is working as a runner on the film.) "For a moment," she said, surveying the two lead actors from a distance, "it felt like it was them, like seeing the past recreated."

And there, up the Suffolk beach - in real life, Dame Iris preferred the Dorset coast, much farther south - is Mr. Broadbent's John Bayley, all stooped solicitude, catering tenderly to a wife who is retreating from him more rapidly than the evening tide. "John never felt he completely had Iris to himself," said Mr. Broadbent, who is 52, "and then Dr. Alzheimer's takes her away."

The movie, said Mr. Rudin, transcends issues of illness to examine "what becomes known to them as a couple when the layers of artifice that have been built up over the years get peeled away."

"What are they left with?" he continued. "What's inside it all? The movie tells an amazing love story that isn't about illness." And yet, he said, "It completely slays you."

 

 

 

August 22 -- There is a nice one-page feature on the film in the September issue of Vanity Fair that includes a very large photo of Kate and Judi Dench in character on the set (click on thumbnail pic to view larger image), a brief description of the filmís story, and a few quotes by Dame Dench about Iris:

 

Spotlight -- "Becoming Miss Murdoch"

 

"I must be the only person in the world who never met her," says Dame Judi Dench about British writer vanityfairsept.jpg (240701 bytes)and philosopher Iris Murdoch, whom she and Kate Winslet portray in the new film Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch, directed by Richard Eyre. Although sheís exaggerating, an untold number of readers do feel as if they knew Murdoch, thanks to her works of philosophy and, especially, to her vivid and darkly passionate novels, which are about what Murdoch called "the unique strangeness of human beings." Dench, herself a fan of the author since the 1960s, experienced the formidable, if quiet, Murdoch mania first-hand. "One day while filming in Oxford, somebody recognized me as her," Dench recalls. "She said, "I know exactly who youíre being." That was very exciting indeed." Being Iris Murdoch, who was, by all accounts, a wonderful listener with no ability for small talk, was also humbling. "I nearly had the opportunity of meeting John Bayley [Murdochís husband] during the film," Dench says. "But I didnít, and Iím quite glad. I would love to meet him, but I didnít want to have to face him with me playing her."

 

More than a profile of an extraordinary character, the movie, based on Bayleyís memoir, is also a love story about Murdoch and Bayleyís 45 years together, which ended with Murdochís death in 1999 after several years of enduring Alzheimerís. "They were two strange, curiously, curiously unique people who found each other," Dench says.

 

Photo caption: A writerís life -- Judi Dench and Kate Winslet, who share the lead role in Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch, on location in Southwold, England.

 

 

 

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