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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 14:42 GMT
One great Dame plays another
Dame Judi Dench found it tough working on the film
Dame Judi Dench found it tough working on the film
By BBC News Online New York entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

Dame Judi Dench will be in New York this weekend for the world première 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.


I think she got more and more like Iris as the film unfolds

John Bayley

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 première on Sunday night is Kate Winslet, whose portrayal of the young Iris Murdoch has drawn favourable comment.

Dame Iris Murdoch led an extraordinary life
Dame Iris Murdoch led an extraordinary life

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.

Kate Winslet is winning plaudits for her role
Kate Winslet is winning plaudits for her role

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.

Kevin Spacey will be hoping for more Oscar glory
Kevin Spacey appears with Dame Judi in Shipping News

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.

See also:

01 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Murdoch bio-pic moves to Paramount
18 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Villagers and friends remember Williams
15 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Actor Michael Williams dies
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