Lit Laurels

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FEBRUARY 11, 2002 | NO.5

It's a joy watching jim Broadbent act. His W.S. Gilbert in Topsy-Turvy, the impresario in Moulin Rouge and, most delectably, the barmy aristocrat in A Sense of History (which he wrote) all suggest a beguiling expanse of personality. His work in Iris-as John Bayley, the Oxford professor who escorted his wife, novelist Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench), through Alzheimer's disease-adds tragic bafflement to the gifts on display in Broadbent's work. Winning a Golden Globe and laurels from two critics' groups have given the Englishman a new sensation: "I seem to be entering into the strange world of awards."

Playing a man some 20 years older, Broadbent, 52, slips into Bayley's question-mark posture, the gentle stammer, the face that has known Iris love and Iris awe for so long that it's wreathed in a permanent giddy smile. Then the face becomes streaked with concern-and a quiet rage-at the disintegration of a first-class mind, the loss of memories that constitute their long life together. "In every love story, there's a third party," Broadbent says, "and in this one, it's Dr. Alzheimer, who is taking her away. And still they become closer and closer."

Broadbent's artistry makes a long love affair seem the most natural, gorgeous thing in the world.

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