My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 2001: Judi Dench in "Iris"

In Iris, Judi Dench plays Iris Murdoch, an English philosopher and author of 26 novels.

Right from the start, when we see Iris sitting on her bicycle, driving too fast for her husband to catch up, we are already given a perfect picture of a woman who is independent, strong-minded and knows what she wants and what she is able to do.

In the early scenes of Iris, Judi Dench gives her usual dignified portrayal of a unique woman. When she is giving a speech or simply talking to her husband in a supermarket, she does it with so much style and elegance that she might also be the Queen of England. While this is simply something that Judi Dench automatically does with almost every role she is playing, it serves the character and the movie very well – we see that Iris is no ordinary woman.

But very soon we find out that this woman who lives in a world of books and thoughts, who is a thinker and a poet, suffers from Alzheimer disease. At first, she has trouble remembering the spelling of certain words but her condition soon gets worse.

What’s so special about Judi Dench’s performance at the beginning of Iris’s illness is that she is able to show that Iris is intelligent enough to know what’s going on. She realizes her own decline, she is very aware of what is going on inside of her – and Judi Dench wonderfully portrays her fear of not being able to do anything against it. Judi Dench demonstrates that Iris’s biggest worries are to finish the book she is writing right now which seems like a race against time.

Also in the all the scenes that show how Iris is tested and examined, Judi Dench clearly and flawlessly shows that the most important thing for Iris is to be always aware of her own state. She doesn’t seem to mind what will happen to her as long as the doctors tell her the truth and she has the complete knowledge about herself.

When Iris’s condition gets worse, Judi Dench gives a very moving, but also rather standard performance that stops surprising the viewer. She handles the scenes of Iris’s loneliness, of her confusion and her retreat into her own world very well but in these scenes, she stops making Iris an interesting, complex character and focuses mostly on the moving effect of her scenes. When we see how this woman, who used to be so confident and intelligent, is not able to open the door or simple repeats a sentence endlessly because she can’t do anything else, it’s certainly heartbreaking to watch.

A lot of the success of Judi Dench’s performance depends on the work from Kate Winslet who, in her flashback scenes, lays the foundation for the character of Iris. If it wasn’t for Kate’s fresh, original and endearing performance, then Judi Dench’s performance wouldn’t be half as effective – because it’s Iris’s uniqueness and her strength that makes her such a fascinating person and we almost only see this in the flashback scenes. The Iris of Judi Dench would not be very interesting without the Iris of Kate Winslet.

As Iris, Judi Dench’s task is mostly to make the tragedy of the character visible to the audience. She does this very touchingly and creates a lot of unforgettable images and overall gives a performance that gets


joe burns said...

I somewhat disagree. I'll post my ranking of them after you're done with this year.

Fritz said...

Did you like her more or less?

joe burns said...