The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

R   |    |  Drama, Romance


The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981) Poster

Wife and husband, both actors, play a couple in love from the Victorian era. Soon they begin to feel that fiction interweaves into reality.


7/10
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  • Meryl Streep and Karel Reisz in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
  • Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
  • Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
  • Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
  • Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
  • Jeremy Irons in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

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18 August 2000 | tedg
Narrative Folding
Haunting environments, two of the century's greatest film actors, one of the half-dozen or so best modern playwrights and Fowles' experiment in parallel narratives. Fowles' work was pale compared to Nabokov's "Pale Fire," for instance in building a convoluted, layered narrative, but is comparable in extent. Here, Pinter's obsession with time refines the vision -- his "Proust Screenplay," also centered on layered time, is much studied and admired.

Everything clicks here. Gorton's designs are detailed and hypnotizing, especially the use of the Lyme groin and related tunnel-like streets. Francis' camera (after "Elephant Man") captures a dim grey sky, made sharp in modern sequences. With the director, they have contrived to quote great paintings. In particular, the first shot after the three year search when Irons gets the telegram directly and obviously references a famous Monet painting -- in fact the first impressionistic painting, a turning point in the artist's perspective. Davis' music -- the only thing that spans time -- supports.

And Meryl is lovely, but so different in each role. We really wonder if her modern madness created the modern affair in quest of the perfect chemistry for the Sarah role It makes Sarah's imagination deeper and more self-referential than in the book. One scene is uniquely masterful: the modern actors "walk" through a scene, then they do it again. Streep turns on, "steps into" the role and becomes Sarah, and a moment later, she pulls the whole scene into the past. This will stick with you, I promise.

The director, Reisz, is supposed to have suggested the concept to Pinter, and then attracted the very best. His tightness of vision is apparent. I wish he were still making films. In a sense he is: he literally "wrote the book" on modern film editing.

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