The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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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.
Art House & International , Drama , Romance
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
MGM Home Entertainment

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

All Critics (17) | Top Critics (1)

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.

Full Review… | September 10, 2015
Q Network Film Desk

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

Full Review… | August 25, 2015
Creative Loafing

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

the film comes off as an academic exercise instead of a living, breathing testament to the ideas it presents.

November 13, 2001

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

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