The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)

I must confess a bias going into this.   I know very little about the film, but honestly, I’ve never been much of a Meryl Streep fan.  A lot of my exposure to her has been in awful films (the only two that come to mind are The Manchurian Candidate and Lions for Lambs), but I guess I haven’t realized what her appeal is.

I do like Jeremy Irons though.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman tells a story-within-a-story, with the parallels taking place between the characters in a movie, and the actor and actress playing them.

Charles Smithson (Irons) is pledged to be married to a girl when he becomes infatuated with Sarah Woodruff (Streep).  Sarah is seen as a tainted woman for the actions related to, you guessed it, a French Lieutenant.  As Charles and Sarah’s affair grows, Charles reaches the point where he breaks off his engagement to go after Sarah after she goes missing.  He loses his fiance, and the sizable dowry she’d bring to the marriage, and has his name scorned and shamed throughout England.  He eventually finds Sarah, who has since changed her name and identity.

In the real world, Mike (Irons) and Anna (Streep) continue an affair during the filming, the first time they cut to the current day they have slept together.  The story lines between film and real life are similar: they enjoy the first stages, have to decide whether to leave their current lives for the other, and a resolution.

The scenes throughout the film are very well shot.  I especially liked early in the film where Sarah is standing out at the edge of the dock (for lack of a better word), and looks out at the ocean, symbolically waiting for her love to return.

The story-within-a-story format is unique in film making, which can provide another layer and perspective.  It also allows for multiple endings, which is what happens in the book the film is based on.  I just got this feeling throughout the movie that the real world side of the film added little to the overall story.  The story being filmed could have held its own quite well, but the added layer on the other side of the camera helps tell a more unique story.  It also probably contributes to the timelessness that love, or in this case inappropriate love, can be.

As far as the acting is concerned, I thought both Irons and Streep did a very good job.  I wasn’t very convinced at Streep’s British accent, but it was nice to see the contrast between film and real world.  She did have a good, convincing monologue when Sarah tells Charles her real story and the ruse she’s living.

My opinion of this movie is that it’s complete, unique in format, and cinematographic-ally well shot, but I would not watch it again.  It was more or less a “blah” type of movie in my opinion.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

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