7 iconic performances by Jeremy Irons - Raindance

Jeremy Irons has been one of the most impressive actor in the past few decades. While never achieving superstar levels of fame, he’s been consistently working in films that ranged from brilliant (Al Pacino’s The Merchant of Venice, for instance) to really (really…) bad, such as the latest Batman vs. Superman mayhem. He actually recently acknowledged that the critics that have been voiced against that film had a point and that the film deserved the scathing reviews, before saying that the next one would be much better? Could it be that Hollywood learned its lesson? Usually the answer to that is a big fat “no” (looking at Alice Through The Looking Glass and countless other examples) -but we’ll see in due course.

In the meantime, there’s plenty to look back on in Jeremy Irons’s career, which also gives us a lot to look forward to in the future.

The Mission

The 1986 film about a Jesuit missionary in the 18th century is today remembered end revered for many reasons. Not only did it win, at the time of its release, the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, it also won the Oscar for Best Cinematography and -wait for it- later went on to earn an A- in the official Vatican film list.

Many things come to mind when remembering that film: Ennio Morricone’s score, of course, but the performances by legends Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons made for complex and humane portraits of these characters, which sent the film soaring.


A box-office failure that later went on the become a cult film, this is one of the many films in Steven Soderbergh’s filmography that haven’t enjoyed the success of Ocean’s Eleven or Traffic, but are deeply enjoyable as cinematic experiences and experiments.

Starring Jeremy Irons in the title role of writer Franz Kafka, with a supporting cast that includes the likes of Alec Guinness, Ian Holm and Joel Grey, no less, this team created a fascinating portrait of the man both by the performances but also by imbuing the film with what can only be called a kafkaesque atmosphere which makes for a fascinating watch.

(Incidentally: Soderbergh has been doing some work on the film and intends to release a new cut of that film, with rewrites and new insert shots and intends to release the new version in the coming years.)

The Man in the Iron Mask

In 1998, Jeremy Irons starred in this film, a box-office success which could have easily found its place in the long list of films called “The many times Hollywood took liberties with historical accuracy for dramatic purposes and we’re fine with it”. Focusing on a plot by the Three Musketeers to switch the vile Louis XIV for his twin brother (both equally handsome as they have the face of Leonardo DiCaprio), who is kept prisoner far away.

With deft direction and a strong story, as well as a stellar cast which includes Irons alongside such icons as John Malkovich and unfortunate-Netflix-series-star Gérard Depardieu and one of the many pleasures of watching this film is to see how these actors play off of each other and relish the process.

Also note how marketers had the wise idea to have Jeremy Irons’s deep, particular voice narrating the trailer.

The Borgias

Not one to take on easy roles, and having more fun on the side of the villain than on the side of white-as-snow heroes, Jeremy Irons took the role of Pope Alexander VI in Neil Jordan’s series The Borgias.

One of the most sulphurous pontiffs in history (he had many mistresses and children, most of whom reached high-ranking positions in the Church by nothing other than sheer nepotism), this portrayal is both about dynasty and individual trajectory with, at its heart, an individual who’s as unexpected as he is morally ambiguous.

Margin Call

One of the first successful thrillers about the 2008 financial crisis, the film follows the key people involved in realising the weaknesses of a financial system on the brink of collapse. The higher up we go on the command chain, the more daunting the prospects seem.

With a stellar cast that includes Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Kevin Spacey and, later on, Jeremy Irons, this film achieves the greatness of moving along at a brisk yet understandable pace while showing strong, terrific performances from some of the best contemporary actors. Playing one of the highest player in the game, Irons brought his grace, gravitas and remarkable, effortless presence in a role that could have easily veered into archetype in lesser hands.

High Rise

An unthinkable project, an unfilmable book requires to take a lot of chances. Ben Wheatley took many and succeeded from just about any standard you can think of with his adaptation of the 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard. Carrying the film is Tom Hiddleston, at the centre of social observation that is as timely as it is searing.

Jeremy Irons features as Royal, the architect who designed (and sits atop) the high-rise. Again, bringing his characteristic presence, singular voice while showing a man holding on to his project on the brink of chaos, Jeremy Irons brings the right amount of strength and purpose to a fascinating picture.

The Lion King

Actors usually prefer to play baddies. They’re more outlandish and more fun. And Jeremy Irons has the perfect villain voice. Voicing Scar, the scheming brother and uncle who wants to sit on the throne, Irons scarred (no pun intended, more or less) generations of children by his chilling work in this Disney classic.

Honourable mention:

Because we love actors making fun of themselves, Irons starred as Alan Rickman/Severus Snape in the French & Saunders spoof of the second Harry Potter film adaptation: Harry Potter and the Secret Chamberpot of Azerbaijan.

Did you know you can have dinner with Jeremy Irons? Here’s how.



Baptiste is a writer hailing from the part of France where it is always sunny. After a stint in politics and earning his Master's Degree in Management, he was a marketing intern for the 23rd Raindance Film Festival in 2015, then joined the team permanently in 2016 as the Registrar of the MA in Filmmaking. He is passionate about diversity in film, which he researches and writes about extensively. He is the producer of the hit webseries "Netflix & Kill" and the multi-award-winning short film "Alder", as well as a writer for stage and screen. His short film "U Up?" is currently in pre-production.