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Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease which is considered the most common form of dementia that occurs in elderly people. For that reason most of us ignore the disease because we don’t think we will come into contact with it in the near future. The thing about Alzheimer’s is that people can start showing symptoms as early as their fifties, but it is only several years on that the disease is diagnosed. Slowly the disease takes over and sufferers become forgetful and confused. I suppose you are wondering what this has to do with a DVD review. Well in 2001 Richard Eyre (better known for TV dramas such as King Lear) decided to join forces with Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent to make a film about the disease and its awful effects. Richard Eyre also co-wrote the screenplay, so it wasn’t a great surprise when the film received worldwide acclaim, and culminated in Academy Award recognition for the cast.  

Iris is based on the true story of the life of British writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch. In her younger days Iris was fun-loving, eccentric and also very gifted. While lecturing at Oxford University she met fellow professor John Bayley, the man she would later marry. The first time they met, Iris fell for John’s innocent and clumsy behaviour and the couple quickly fell in love. They were married for over forty years, which is amazing considering how different the pair seemed. Iris was particularly renowned for her active bisexual activities and eccentric behaviour, while John was more prudent. Iris died in 1999 at the age of 79, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The film tells the story of her later years, and how she was badly affected by Alzheimer’s.

The movie cleverly moves between the present and past so in effect we get two separate films. Director Richard Eyre cunningly uses this method of switching between the past and present so the audience gets an accurate portrayal of how Iris’ quality of life deteriorated over the years. Kate Winslet plays the young Iris, while Hugh Bonneville plays John Bayley. Forty years on, Iris is played by Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent plays the part of her husband.  The main objective of this film is to show how a talented and well respected person can deteriorate over a short space of time due to the disease. When the movie begins Iris is just starting to show signs of Alzheimer’s. She is struggling to write her novels as quickly as she used to, and sometimes she forgets what she is about to say. As the movie progresses we are shown how the disease takes a grip of her and leaves her completely dependant on her husband.

Iris is a very emotional movie, with the director homing in on every Alzheimer’s related incident, so that the audience gets a true glimpse of how debilitating the disease can be. With Judi Dench you expect a professional performance and her role in Iris is no different. However, the real star of this film is Jim Broadbent who portrays the haggard character of John Bayley with true class. Towards the end of her life, Iris became a huge burden, but her loving husband remained strong and did his best to help her. Broadbent fits into the role expertly and made me feel sorry for his character. He genuinely looks tired towards the end of the movie, and successfully depicts a man who is feeling the strain.  His Academy Award was richly deserved! Kate Winslet also deserves a mention for her role as the younger Iris, which was not an easy part to play. The upper class behaviour of Iris was tackled head on by Winslet and she comes out of the movie showing that she is one of the best British actresses currently gracing our screens.  

Recently Hollywood has not produced many true life stories, so it is nice to see a British film leading the way. Iris is a moving, heartfelt movie which will leave you feeling touched and slightly sad at the end. The film is wonderfully acted, with a gifted cast strengthening what is an emotional and engrossing storyline. If you are sick of high action Hollywood blockbusters and would like to see something which will move you, then Iris is definitely worth a viewing. Such is the impact of the movie that it is likely to result in a sombre mood. However the aim of this film is to educate people in the disease and its impact, so bearing that in mind Iris can be considered a resounding success.  

The movie is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is not the clearest you will see and there are slight signs of grain throughout. Also the film can appear hazy, but this may have more to do with the way that the movie was shot. Due to the nature of the film, colours often appear dull. A lot of the movie is shot in Iris’ house, and the intention was to make the backdrop sombre. There appeared to be no obvious signs of compression artefacts and generally this is a clean print. Detail levels are very high, with every wrinkle on Jim Broadbent’s face appearing well defined. Considering the nature of the movie, this is a perfectly adequate transfer.

Iris is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1. There are no foreign soundtracks, which is a little bemusing. Not surprisingly the soundtrack provided is restrained. However, at several intervals during the movie the rears sprang into action and gave a little more depth to the track. Examples of this include a thunderstorm as well as a motorway journey where vehicles come speeding past John Bayley’s car. Taking into account the powerful screenplay, it is essential that the dialogue is clear throughout and thankfully that is the case. This maybe a subdued track, but it is still effective.

In comparison to the region one disc sadly the region two version is lacking a special making of featurette and speech from Jim Broadbent. What we get with this disc is a Special Message from David Hyde Pierce.
He talks about Alzheimer’s and its symptoms. Apparently victims find it hard to express themselves and we are told about other problems that can occur. We also get to hear about the about the care that is available for people suffering from the disease. An interesting fact which comes out during the 2 minute speech is the fact that 18 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The other extra contained on the disc is called Sony Classics Music, which is a short advert for the Iris soundtrack. As you can see, not a very impressive set of extras.

Iris is a wonderfully acted and directed movie, which is a credit to the British film industry. The film has a point to make and does it well. Alzheimer’s is a dreadful disease, and hopefully this film will raise peoples’ awareness of it. As for the disc, unfortunately the extras are a little disappointing with several of the features contained on the region one release having been omitted. Audio and Visual elements are perfectly acceptable and compliment the sombre nature of the main presentation. Iris is definitely a film you should find time to watch.