The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)



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Movie Info

In this filmization of John Fowles' original novel, we watch as Sara, a 19th-century Englishwoman ruined by an affair with a French lieutenant, enters into another disastrous relationship. Viewers are made aware that what they're seeing is a film. This is done by surrounding the story with a modern narrative.

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Meryl Streep
as Sarah/Anna
Jeremy Irons
as Charles Henry Smithson/Mike
Charlotte Mitchell
as Mrs. Tranter
Lynsey Baxter
as Ernestina
Peter Vaughan
as Mr. Freeman
Liz Smith
as Mrs. Fairley
Patience Collier
as Mrs. Poulteney
John Barrett
as Dairyman
Leo McKern
as Dr. Grogan
Arabella Weir
as Girl on Undercliff
Ben Forster (IV)
as Boy on Undercliff
Catherine Willmer
as Dr. Grogan's housekeeper
Anthony Langdon
as Asylum Keeper
Edward Duke
as Nathaniel
Richard Hope
as Assistant #3
Michael Elwyn
as Montague
Toni Palmer
as Mrs. Endicott
Cecily Hobbs
as Betty Anne
Doreen Mantle
as Lady on Train
Judith Alderson
as Red-Haired Prostitute
Cora Kinnaird
as Prostitute #2
Orlando Fraser
as Tom Elliott
Vicky Ireland
as Mrs. Tranter's Maid
Clare Travers-Deacon
as Mrs. Poulteney's Maid
Harriet Walter
as Girl in Asylum
Janet Rawson
as Young Girl in Lyme Street
Mia Soteriou
as Au Pair
Peter Fraser
as Mr. Freeman's Clerk
Rayner Newmark
as Wharf Commissionaire
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Critic Reviews for The French Lieutenant's Woman

All Critics (19) | Top Critics (2)

The period drama is richly textured and acted with intensity by Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons and a superior cast.

Oct 22, 2018 | Full Review…

The French Lieutenant's Woman" is a beautiful film to look at, and remarkably well-acted.

Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Nothing is left to chance; which means that the responses of the audience aren't left to chance, either. It was as if something were being put over on us. We were in some obscure way, being cheated. The director had reacted for us in advance.

Mar 27, 2018 | Full Review…

It is ironic that the framing device, which is meant to draw our attention to the constructed nature of it all, doesn't work nearly as well and ultimately fails to derail our enjoyment of that which we're supposed to be questioning.

Sep 10, 2015 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

A lush period drama that also manages to criticize outmoded patriarchal standards.

Aug 25, 2015 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

A shallow, confusing and vexing film.

Jul 10, 2006 | Rating: C | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The French Lieutenant's Woman



Emile Tremblay
Emile Tremblay

Super Reviewer

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
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer


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

Julie B
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
Lady D'arbanville

Super Reviewer

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