It's becoming quite a month for pensioner power. Last week, we had Last Orders, this week, it's the turn of Iris, a portrait of the novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley in youth and old age. Theirs is essentially a story of enduring love, or perhaps of endurance and love. Having met in the Fifties at Oxford, they eventually recognised one another as soul mates and lived in chaotic togetherness for over 40 years. Yet a savage coup de vieux awaited them towards the end: Iris was overmastered by Alzheimer's disease and reduced to an almost childlike state of dependency that husband John, an astonishingly impractical man, took on as his personal labour of love.
The theatre maestro Richard Eyre and co-writer Charles Wood have compiled Iris from Bayley's two memoirs of his wife (she died in 1999), and leavened what might sound a grim chronicle of dotage by shuttling the narrative back and forth between the Fifties and the Nineties. The film's most brilliant stroke is in the double-casting of the couple. As the young Iris, Kate Winslet is a fine instinctive foil to John, a shy, stammering fellow played to an ingenuous T by Hugh Bonneville. It's a meeting of minds but a clash of temperaments: while they can happily horse about in the river and cycle around country lanes, John has no answer to Iris's robustly promiscuous sex life, and slinks away in pain after spying her in action with some suitor or other (Sam West does a neat turn as a Lothario with a pencil tache).
In the end, it's John's gentleness and civility that captivate Iris, qualities that Jim Broadbent embodies in an almost eerie continuation of the man into old age (one assumes Broadbent and Bonneville studied each other's performance, because they're like peas in a pod). As for Judi Dench, she achieves an even more disturbing resemblance to the later Iris Murdoch, particularly her innocent blankness after she succumbs to the living death of Alzheimer's. The realisation that her mind is disintegrating quivers with pathos ("It's like I'm sailing into darkness," she says) yet also smuggles in a dark comedy: conducting a memory test, a doctor asks her the name of the Prime Minister. A pause: "I don't know – does it matter? Someone else will know".
A picture of twinkling uxoriousness, Broadbent suffers, too, under the burden of his wife's illness, exasperated by her helplessness and then guilt-stricken for losing his temper.
Iris, one of the most unusual love duets of recent times, is a good movie, but not a great one. For all the skilful impersonation on show, the film conveys the awfulness of Alzheimer's without really explaining why Iris Murdoch's case was a particularly tragic instance. (Eyre, whose mother suffered from the disease, may be dealing with a more personal ghost.) Of course, there's only so much a film can suggest, but instead of intellectual energy or dazzle, we get only a genial dottiness, and an occasional assurance that she "loves words". Insufficient, I think. Kate Winslet and Judi Dench have done the late Dame proud, but for those who have never read Murdoch, there will be some cause for wonder about all the fuss.
Young Israeli writer-director Dover Kosashvili makes an intriguing debut with Late Marriage, a story of family tradition at odds with personal freedom. Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi) is working on his philosophy doctorate, and, at 31, still unmarried, despite the efforts of his exasperated parents. Now, they've dragged him along to meet the daughter of a "good" Jewish family, and it's looking promising: his prospective bride, a coltish 18-year-old, could easily pass for Miss Israel. But it's no use. What Zaza's parents don't know, however, is that he's already in love with Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), and what they won't like is that she's a feisty thirtysomething divorcée with a six-year-old kid.
Kosashvili dramatises this tug-of-war in unusually long scenes that tilt the focus one way and then the other. The film doesn't go in quite the direction you expect – a bedroom scene, for example, turns candidly effluvial, while the finale pulls a double-bluff that is suddenly very sobering. The sprightly romantic comedy we thought we were watching has a serious sting in its tail – it feels as if real life has intruded.
The best one can say about the horror flick Long Time Dead is that it is not as poor as last week's Soul Survivors. A bunch of students get together over a Ouija board and release a djinn that tells them, in no uncertain terms, that they're all going to die. You'd think, after all the time these people spent watching horror movies, they'd not purposely walk alone down dark corridors or rummage in basements: why not try to avoid a grisly death? But they never learn. Honestly, students nowadays.