Thursday, August 17, 2006
#13 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)
Flashback: December 2001. I was attending an evening show of Richard Eyre's Iris and marvelling at the delightfully tender and fragile John Bayley character Jim Broadbent was composing on-screen. Despite Kate Winslet and Judi Dench giving searing portrayals of the writer Iris Murdoch, it was Broadbent's endearing work as her husband that touched me the most as I reflected on the film afterward. What my seventeen-year-old brain failed to register, however, was that this was the same character actor who played father (and father-figure) to both Bridget Jones and Satine earlier that year. The recognition came only later while reading various Oscar articles that this British performer had played opposite three Best Leading Actress nominees. I was dumb-founded; what a transformation from role to role! Whether leeringly crooning "Like a Virgin" as the manic Harold Zidler or quietly suffering his wife's infidelity as sad-sack Mr. Jones, Broadbent was clearly the Best Supporting Actor of 2001. But while cases could be made for either of those performances for this list, I think (shockingly) the Academy got it right when they rewarded him with the Oscar for Iris. Perhaps it isn't a "better" performance than the one he gave in Moulin Rouge!, but John Bayley is arguably the role that demanded more of him as an actor. I find it staggering to compare the actor to the character on-screen; he looks almost twenty years older, and carries the weight of those years in his body, in his eyes. Throughout the film, as Iris's mental state deteriorates, his love for and dedication to this brilliant woman never wavers. True, he becomes frustrated with her regression into almost-childlike dependancy, and past grudges are slowly unearthed. She is no longer the strong-willed, powerful woman he first fell in love with. Yet Broadbent is able to demonstrate how, despite these newly-formed complex feelings, Bayley remains forever connected to this woman he revered so much in life (indeed, he wrote the memoir this film is based on, Elegy for Iris). This is made so devastatingly potent in one of the film's final scenes, in which Broadbent's Bayley looks lovingly over his dying wife, his face beaming at her with such pride and sadness. The scene is not only heavy-hearted because a great mind has passed on, but because we are left to consider how this man will live on without her. The way Broadbent so respectfully shows us Bayley's idolization and regard for Iris is one of this film's many pleasures. It gets me every time.