A literary academic whose novels met with widespread commercial acclaim, the work of Iris Murdoch has a depth and elusiveness difficult to capture on screen. So for Iris, his first film as a director, Richard Eyre avoids the problematic novels and instead alternates the two phases of Murdoch\'s life as related by her widower John Bayley in his books Iris: A Memoir and Elegy for Iris. We see the headstrong and captivating Oxford undergraduate with academia at her feet, drawn to the gauche Bayley on account of his sincerity and understanding of what she needs to achieve for herself. Kate Winslet has the right combination of vibrancy and thoughtfulness for the young Iris, with Hugh Bonneville sympathetic as Bayley.
The other phase reveals Murdoch near the end of her life, struggling to complete what would be her final novel and fulfil her public engagements as she succumbs to the effects of Alzheimer\'s disease. Judy Dench has given numerous fine screen performances, but none as gripping nor so heart-rending as the ageing writer who withdraws into her own world--to the consternation, anger, then acceptance of her husband, movingly played by Jim Broadbent. Cameos from such actors as Eleanor Bron and Timothy West add to the overall quality, as does Eyre\'s lucid script, atmospheric location filming in and around Oxford, and an attractively low-key score from James Horner. Murdoch\'s novels may in future receive the kind of filmic presentation that does them justice. For now, this poignant insight into episodes from the life of a great modern writer is a must-see.