The “Picks” series is a column devoted to letting us rank the individual things we love in entertainment.
It’s still a very weird thing to say I’ll be in the presence of Jeremy Irons this weekend. I can pinpoint the exact moment I realized there was something wrong with me and I was obsessed with all things Irons. I was 13 years old sleeping in the backseat of my mother’s car – she worked graveyard and I often went to work with her. My mom spent a lot of time listening to audiobooks during work, so I’d have bizarre dreams involving snippets of whatever book wafted through my subconscious. Well, one day she decided to listen to Lolita, read by Jeremy Irons of all people. I woke up the next morning and I was never the same again! Last year I attempted the impossible: to watch every Jeremy Irons film in existence and though I stopped in 1995, I gave a valiant effort and I think I have enough here for a pretty kick-ass list. And since I’m gonna be seeing Irons in Long Day’s Journey into Night on Saturday, I figured why not rank my favorites (for research, of course)? Not all of these movies are perfect, but they’re the ones I can’t live without. Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments.
I ranked these in order of how much they mean to me on a personal level. So please no “How could you possibly consider this better?”
13. Being Julia (2004)
I need to see Being Julia again because it’s been awhile. The film is predominately a showcase for Annette Bening who, no surprise here, is absolutely luminous as an actress trying to find her relevance in a new show. She’s funny and fierce, and her scenes opposite Lucy Punch are great. So, considering this isn’t his movie it’s no surprise that Irons is a tad overshadowed. That being said he’s so fun as the husband who does little more than exercise, smoke, and look glorious in period costume.
12. Their Finest (2016)
Like Being Julia, this is a small role for Irons. In fact, he’s only in this movie for a single scene but it sums up everything that I love about what Jeremy Irons is doing today. He shows up, does his patented “Jeremy Irons” thing and then leaves. Red Sparrow sucks, but it’s so fun to watch him smoke, sit in a fine leatherback chair and drink whiskey for no reason. Here, he plays the Secretary of War that Gemma Arterton’s main character has to appear in front of before making her war propaganda picture. The extent of Irons’ performance extends to creepily touching Arterton and doing the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. That’s it. He’s never seen in the film again. But wasn’t it GREAT hearing him do Henry V? I wanted more.
11. Betrayal (1983)
This isn’t an easy film to track down but if you can find a copy it’s so worth it. (Outube-Yay is a possibility.) Based off Harold Pinter’s play this is a relationship drama told in reverse, from the end of the relationship going back to its origins. I’m still not buying that it’s fair to put Irons opposite Ben Kingsley – it’s not fair to Kingsley at least – but the film is a straighforward, compelling melodrama. And this is probably the best Jeremy Irons’ hair has looked in the history of ever.
10. Damage (1992)
I’m putting this on the list for….reasons. Reasons that become VERY apparent if you watch all the way to the end. I’m not even gonna spoil this by giving a plot synopsis but if you know ANYTHING about director Louis Malle you should know what you’re getting into. Good luck watching The Lion King after this.
9. Elizabeth I (2005)
I’m a Tudor-phile so the fact that Irons got to play the Earl of Leicester is tailor made for me. It’s Irons at his best – period costume, being incredibly dashing. Helen Mirren is a great Queen Elizabeth but we all know the thirst between her and Leicester sells everything.
8. Stealing Beauty (1996)
I have a lot of problems with this movie, particularly in how Bernardo Bertolucci frames leading lady Liv Tyler. Stealing Beauty is the story of a teenage girl’s sexual awakening in Italy as she attempts to learn more about her deceased mother. It’s easy to understand why people compared Call Me By Your Name to this, but where CMBYN cast the gaze on Armie Hammer’s character, this movie pretty creepily letches out on Tyler. Nearly every male within a 10-mile radius tries to screw her and even Bertolucci’s camera seems to undress her. But at least Jeremy Irons is solid as the one guy who isn’t an outright creep. I mean, he’s still drawn to her in a way that’s not completely lust-free, but he’s not a pervert like other characters here. Irons’ Alex is of the poetical nature, attempting to get Tyler’s Lucy to seek romance more than anything else. He’s romantic and swoon-worthy.
7. Beautiful Creatures (2013)
I stan HARD for Beautiful Creatures. In a world where nearly every YA adaptation was immediately greenlit with 10 sequels I’m still irritated that this didn’t get one. Beautiful Creatures is one of the smarter YA adaptations with actual actors conveying genuine emotion. When people say they like Alden Ehrenreich, I don’t believe them unless they’ve seen this movie. Overseeing things as the grand patriarch is Jeremy Irons as town eccentric, Macon Ravenwood. Let’s get what I love out of the way: his wardrobe! The Ravenwood costumes are all great in an Addams’ Family way, but he gets to wear the best outfits, from silk robes to the best suits. He totally manipulates Ehrenreich in one scene that’s hilarious to watch – and proof that Ehrenreich can be amazing if given the right material. And I’ll be the first to tell you nearly every Jeremy Irons accent is just his voice, but when he does give the Southern accent a go it’s so great.
6. Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
No one can trump Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber from the first film. But if you had to ask me who I could see playing Alan Rickman’s brother, I’d TOTALLY have said Jeremy Irons. You can conceivably believe they came out of the same womb. The gravitas, the voice, the penchant for ham, they both have it in spades. But for me, this iteration of Die Hard leaves me with so many questions, predominately what is Jeremy Irons’ Simon Gruber wearing. Is it a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off? A tank top whose straps have enlarged? I’ve grappled with answering this question for years. And, yeah, the platinum blonde hair doesn’t particularly work but I’m thinking Bruce Willis needed to find a way to avoid being upstaged by the villain…again. There’s also a line of dialogue in here that Irons’ says that makes me smile every time.
5. The Lion King (1994)
So….watching The Lion King is a unique experience for me now that I’ve seen other Irons movies (looking at you, Damage!). I’m certainly a lot cruder when I watch this now, but it is a classic and that’s being said as someone who loved it before becoming an Irons fangirl. The Lion King is beautifully animated with some of the most enduring songs in Disney history, though it’s not my favorite Disney animated feature. As far as Scar goes, I’d like to think Scar confused many a lady – hey, there are women obsessed with the animated Robin Hood. The character is all sorts of rangy and borderline fey in places, which only enhances how god-damn awesome he is. Though, he should have totally killed Simba in that gorge but i’d like to think he knew a movie was being filmed and they needed a second act.
4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)
The French Lieutenant’s Woman is the apotheosis of “Jeremy Irons, romantic leading man.” He’s played in other romance films before, but the dueling stories of a movie-within-a-movie and the actors playing out their own love story behind the scenes is romantic on numerous levels. Irons and Meryl Streep have some phenomenal chemistry, and when they’re making the actual movie it’s a perfect romantic drama in the vein of a Charlotte Bronte novel. And the muttonchops, good Lord those are worth the price of admission. Jeremy Irons also rocks jeans in this movie which will NEVER not be weird to me.
3. Reversal of Fortune (1990)
This is the film he won the Oscar for, ladies and gents, so it would be sacrilege to not include it. For me, there’s nothing inherently “hot” about his performance as accused murderer Claus von Bulow. It’s just a great example of what a damn fine actor he is. He’s creepy as all hell, but the way he plays up the wealth and entitlement of the character leave you just enough doubt to wonder if he’s innocent. His acting opposite Glenn Close is amazing. This is one of the best true crime moves out there.
2. Lolita (1997)
You had to know this would rank high on my list considering how often I reference it. My thoughts on Lolita are diverse because really you can’t say you “like” this movie without looking like a pervert. Then again, you can also say this about the 1962 Stanley Kubrick film and the Vladimir Nabokov novel on which the entire thing is based. What Adrian Lyne does with this interpretation is so interesting. He films everything like it’s a 1940s movie, romanticizing and gauzing things up because in all three versions you’re looking at things through Humbert Humbert’s eyes. But by using this method I think Lyne and crew are doing a bait and switch, distracting you with this presumed “complicity” in order to showcase Dominique Swain’s haunting performance as the victim of abuse. You can easily watch this movie simply looking at Dolores’ story and see how things come off as wrong and horrible. To that end, I know several young women who cite this as a launchpad for their sexual awakenings on par with Labyrinth. I have one friend who dressed up as Swain for Halloween one year – and I will say, the costumes she wears in this are great! I don’t know what that says about all of us, but I do know THIS is the film version I prefer.
1. Dead Ringers (1988)
Dead Ringers is life! I absolutely, positively, ADORE this movie. I remember when my mother discovered my whole Irons obsession and casually said, “You’ve watched Dead Ringers, right?” I had no idea what the hell she was talking about and nearly hit the roof when she said, “It’s a Cronenberg movie where Jeremy Irons plays twins….oh, and it’s got your Anne Boleyn in it.” Anne Boleyn, in case you don’t know, is Genevieve Bujold who played her in my favorite movie, Anne of the Thousand Days. There was a movie directed by David Cronenberg with 2 Jeremy Irons, AND starring my favorite actress?! Where was this movie. Actually, up until a few years ago, Dead Ringers was incredibly hard to find and I remember having a friend copy a battered Criterion disc of it for me to watch. (Don’t tell anyone.) Now that the film is widely available you need to watch it! It’s gross, kinky, Jeremy Irons dances AND eats pizza (another weird thing that just looks odd coming from him). It’s just so good!