Iris (15)

Review by Simon Bell

JUST what the Academy loves: A previous Oscar winning (and twice more nominated) artiste playing a tragic character suffering from mental illness.

Well, if the fuss and nonsense being made about Nicole Kidman in Baz Luhrmann's bawdy musical does eventually settle down to respectable levels, it just might be Judi Dench's year... again.

Directed by Richard Eyre, Artistic Director of the National Theatre for more than a decade and responsible for many an acclaimed stage production, "Iris" tells the extraordinary relationship between, and story of, an extraordinary man and woman.

Beginning at Oxford in the 1950s during the early stages of their courtship, the narrative fluctuates between this very distinct chapter and the later days of the 20th Century's last decade when Murdoch died having suffered from three years of Alzheimer's.

But although Dench turns in yet another gold-plated show in the central role of novelist philosopher Iris Murdoch, those at Oscar HQ should really focus their attentions on her male counterparts Jim Broadbent (fresh from multi-acclaim in said French whorehouse-set comedy) and the lesser-known but spookily Broadbent-a-like Hugh Bonneville (Mansfield Park, Notting Hill, Tomorrow Never Dies etc).

As old and young John Bayley, Oxford don and lifelong confidante/husband of Murdoch (and on whose two volume memoirs this film is based) Broadbent and Bonneville give faultless renditions.

Broadbent, in particular, delivers a remarkably observed study of 43 years of selfless devotion to his wife and is easily the most memorable. No lean achievement given the company: To top it off, Executive Producers Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack managed to talk Kate Winslet into the Iris-as-spring chicken role.

Thematically the film deals with youth versus decay and how love can survive even decades of the most bohemian life, marriage and home. It wisely steers clear of the content of Murdoch's prolific writings - that's for another film.

This unforgettable account of "the most brilliant woman in England", meanwhile, will leave a deep and lasting impression.