Judi Dench's extraordinary Indian summer continues with a heartbreaking performance as the late novelist Iris Murdoch. Her portrayal of a great mind succumbing to the ravages of Alzheimer's is unbearably moving, but it's let down a little by a lack of dramatic momentum and Richard Eyre's unambitious direction.
Bouncing back and forth between Murdoch's early days at Oxford and her deterioration four decades later, "Iris" tells of its heroine's enduring love for John Bayley, a fellow academic who wrote the memoirs upon which the script was based.
Played by Kate Winslet, the younger Iris is a vivacious intellectual with penchants for nude swimming and casual sex. What she sees in the bookish, stammering Bayley (Bonneville) is a mystery, but that doesn't stop her taking him into her bed, and into her heart.
The situation is reversed in the present day, with the now-elderly Bayley (Broadbent) forced to become a virtual parent to his addled wife. Unfortunately, because we are asked to take Murdoch's genius on trust, the impact of her tragedy is reduced. Indeed, the ping-pong structure of the narrative unwittingly implies her condition might even be some karmic retribution for her adolescent promiscuity.
Dench and Winslet inhabit the role of Iris with such intensity it's hard to take your eyes off them. But it would be an injustice not to recognise the contributions of Broadbent and Bonneville. In addition to their astonishing physical resemblance, they ensure the bumbling Bayley is no mere caricature of selfless devotion.