The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)


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Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

John Fowles' original novel The French Lieutenant's Woman was distinguished by a literary technique that involved telling a story of Victorian sexual and social oppression within the bounds of a 1970s viewpoint. How does one convey this time-frame dichotomy on film? The decision made by director Karel Reisz and Harold Pinter was to frame Fowles' basic plot within a "modern" context of their own making. While we watch as Sarah (Meryl Streep), a 19th-century Englishwoman ruined by an affair with a … More

Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Romance, Art House & International
Directed By:
Written By: Harold Pinter
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 4, 2001
MGM Home Entertainment


as Sarah/Anna

as Charles Henry Smiths...

as Mrs. Tranter

as Ernestina

as Mr. Freeman

as Mrs. Fairley

as Mrs. Poulteney

as Dairyman

as Dr. Grogan

as Girl on Undercliff

as Boy on Undercliff

as Dr. Grogan's houseke...

as Asylum Keeper

as Nathaniel

as Assistant #3

as Montague

as Mrs. Endicott

as Betty Anne

as Lady on Train

as Red-Haired Prostitut...

as Prostitute #2

as Tom Elliott

as Mrs. Tranter's Maid

as Mrs. Poulteney's Mai...

as Girl in Asylum

as Young Girl in Lyme S...

as Au Pair

as Mr. Freeman's Clerk

as Wharf Commissionaire
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for The French Lieutenant's Woman

All Critics (17) | Top Critics (3)

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Full Review… | February 11, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

A shallow, confusing and vexing film.

Full Review… | July 10, 2006
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Playing a dual (Oscar-nominated) role, Meryl Streep is much more convincing in the contemporay tale.

Full Review… | December 18, 2004

A gripping psychological study of the war between the sexes that asks the question: Are we happier, wiser, more liberated, than the Victorian characters in the story?

Full Review… | January 15, 2002
Spirituality and Practice

Audience Reviews for The French Lieutenant's Woman

This film interweaves two two-character dramas: as adulterous actors film a melodrama about a 19th Century adulterous couple, they begin to develop their own off-the-set feelings.
As a fan of his stage work and the film The Last Tycoon, I was excited to see more of Harold Pinter's work, but The French Lieutenant's Woman conspicuously lacks Pinter's characteristic pregnant pauses and focus on subtext. Yes, there's is a short scene between Smithson and his servant when we're to understand that the latter is blackmailing the former, but it's hardly as rich as Pinter's stage work. My expectations notwithstanding, the script provides us with precious few compelling scenes. More importantly, for most of the film I was unsure about why these two stories were being juxtaposed. What is this film saying about relationships and adultery? Sometimes it works, sometimes not? It's destructive? Either way, there's not much to sink our teeth into.
Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep try their best to wring some meta-textual complexity out of the story, but whereas Roger Ebert sees depth in their performances - he states, "Everything they say and do has another level of meaning, because we know the 'real' relationship between the actors themselves" - I saw actors and characters divorced, separated, as though these were two films that happened to be cut together. Thus, what I think is true of the script is also true of the performances.
Overall, the film's attempt to become greater than the sum of its parts only leaves us confused.

Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer


Extremely well done, slow and deliberate unraveling of two intertwined love stories.

Julie B

Super Reviewer

The two love stories that are the link in this film would have been very boring in their own right, but mix the two, the time differences, the character changes and this film becomes a paradox of itself. It's tough going and not particularly exciting, but with Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep it's easy to spot this as a performance driven film.

Lady D'arbanville

Super Reviewer

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