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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I have a freedom they cannot understand."
"Outside of marriage, your Victorian gentleman could look forward to 2.4 [sexual encounters] a week," Mike (Jeremy Irons) coolly calculates after Anna (Meryl Streep) has read to him the statistics according to which, while London's male population in 1857 was 1 1/4 million, the city's estimated 80,000 prostitutes were receiving a total of 2 million clients per week. And...
Published on 11 May 2004 by Themis-Athena

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointed
I was disappointed because I thought it was a period drama, but it is not. The acting is good, but the scenario with a much too obvious story line. There is little positivity in this, so those who want a "boost", don't buy it.
Published 14 months ago by elizabeth


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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I have a freedom they cannot understand.", 11 May 2004
By 
Themis-Athena (from somewhere between California and Germany) - See all my reviews
"Outside of marriage, your Victorian gentleman could look forward to 2.4 [sexual encounters] a week," Mike (Jeremy Irons) coolly calculates after Anna (Meryl Streep) has read to him the statistics according to which, while London's male population in 1857 was 1 1/4 million, the city's estimated 80,000 prostitutes were receiving a total of 2 million clients per week. And frequently, Anna adds, the women thus forced to earn their living came from respectable positions like that of a governess, simply having fallen into bad luck, e.g. by being discharged after a dispute with their employer and their resulting inability to find another position.
This brief dialogue towards the beginning of this movie based on John Fowles's 1969 novel succinctly illustrates both the fate that would most likely have been in store for title character Sarah (Meryl Streep in her "movie within the movie" role), had she left provincial Lyme Regis on Dorset's Channel coast and gone to London, and the Victorian society's moral duplicity: For while no virtues were regarded as highly as honor, chastity and integrity; while no woman intent on keeping her good name could even be seen talking to a man alone (let alone go beyond that); and while marriage - like any contract - was considered sacrosanct, rendering the partner who deigned to breach it an immediate social outcast, all these rules were suspended with regard to prostitutes; women who, for whatever reasons, had sunk so low they were regarded as nonpersons and thus, inherently unable to stain anybody's reputation but their own.
Appearances would have it that Sarah, too, is just such a woman - however, appearances can be deceptive; and herein lies the starting point of the story's social criticism: Realizing that once society has unjustifiedly placed her in that position, nothing she does will ever wipe away the mark of disgrace she wears as "the scarlet woman of Lyme," Sarah seeks strength in her very role as a pariah; trying to find a liberty not allowed to women of "good" society who are bound by the era's moral prerogatives; and to create a space for herself where she is untouchable because it is too far beyond the accepted social boundaries. In this, she resembles Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne (who however, unlike Sarah, actually had committed the adultery she was accused of). But Sarah's attempt to salvage at least a fraction of her sense of self dramatically fails when she is discharged by conservative old Mrs. Poulteney (Patience Collier) for "exhibiting her shame" by having been seen - against her employer's express prohibition - on an undercliff overlooking the sea across which her supposed suitor, the French lieutenant to whom she owes her less-than-charitable epithet and reputation, disappeared, never to return. Desperate, she literally throws herself at the feet of Charles Smithson (Jeremy Irons), who although recently engaged to local merchant Freeman's daughter Ernestina (Lynsey Baxter) has taken more than just a slight interest in her, and who to her has thus become the proverbial white knight in shining armor. Charles in turn, unable to contain his infatuation with Sarah, casts aside the well-meaning counsel of physician Dr. Grogan (Leo McKern) (who considers Sarah's condition a classic case of "obscure melancholia" and would like to see her committed to an asylum) and breaks his engagement with Ernestina, thus incurring social shame himself, to be free for Sarah ... only to find her gone when he returns to take her home.
Faced with the impossibility of creating a screenplay from a novel set in the Victorian Age but told from a 20th century perspective, interspersed with the author's frequent modern-day commentary, in order to maintain that duality, acclaimed playwright Harold Pinter opted for a "movie within a movie" scenario, allowing modern-day actors Mike and Anna to give the commentary provided by Fowles himself in the book. But more than that, Anna and Mike are also a foil for Sarah and Charles in that they are engaged in an extramarital affair; and while late 20th century morality is obviously different from that of the Victorian Age, they, too, must decide what is to become of their romance. And in both cases, it is Sarah/Anna who ultimately makes the decision: In Fowles's novel, one that invites Charles to respond and whose outcome will lastly depend on his response (the author provides two different conclusions, leaving it up to his readers to determine the one most convincing to them); but in the the two actors's case, Anna presents Mike with a fait-accompli, contrasting with the end of Sarah's and Charles's story in the movie.
Sublimely capturing the story's gothic atmosphere with its candlelit rooms, stormy nights and a haunted woman who - particularly when first seen standing at the edge of a quay, oblivious to the winds and raging waves around her - appears more like a ghost than a human being, "The French Lieutenant's Woman" is perfectly cast with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons in the dual roles of Sarah/Anna and Charles/Mike: While outwardly quite different (Anna is upbeat but rational, Sarah passionate and vulnerable), both women ultimately find strength within themselves, whereas both men are sensitive and generally quieter, although Charles especially is Sarah's passionate equal once his feelings are stirred. Scored by Carl Davis and also boasting a strong supporting cast - including appearances by Hilton McRae (Charles's manservant Sam), Emily Morgan (Ernestina's maid Mary), Colin Jeavons (the vicar who, attempting to help Sarah, introduces her to Mrs. Poulteney), Gerard Falconetti (Anna's husband Davide) and Penelope Wilton (Mike's wife Sonia) - "The French Lieutenant's Woman" won a Golden Globe for Meryl Streep (Best Actress) and several British awards, but none of its five Oscar nominations (Best Actress, Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design and Editing - Jeremy Irons unfairly didn't even earn a "Best Actor" nomination). Yet, this is a compelling production, bringing to life Fowles's complex characters in a thoroughly convincing, poignant fashion; and sure to leave a lasting impression.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passes the test of time, 16 May 2010
By 
N. E. BURDETT (Salisbury, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman [DVD] [1981] (DVD)
I loved this film when it first came out. Kept missing it when it was shown on TV. Finally bought it and sat enthralled as the story unfolded. Did not notice the time passing - never made it to the kitchen to put the kettle on, never mind take the time out to make a cup of tea. Completely forgot a DVD can be stopped!!! Just brilliantly acted and the settings are delightful. Loved the modern twist. The two endings were very skillfully done too. Can not rate it highly enough. It has to be seen.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A HAUNTING DICHOTOMY IN A TIME FREEZE, 2 July 2009
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman [DVD] [1981] (DVD)
John Fowles abstract romantic masterpiece is a paradox where a "Victorian affair" is viewed from a modern perspective and yet the two time frames melifluously fuse in a stupendous journey of parallel romantic affairs in a scale that brings the time full circle like a metaphorical eternal Greek cycle of philosophical philandering.

Reisz has directed the movie version with intense passion and meticulous detail by converting the story of Sarah [Meryl Streep],the Victorian adventuress, with a tainted reputation who has indulged in an openly scandalous affair with a flamboyant French army officer, and is following it with a tame romantic encounter with a young Breton Charles, who is a decent and conscientious man but not as colorful or interesting as her French lieutenant .

The book is transformed to a visual riddle ,where this complex story is related as a "film within a film" being shot at location ,where Streep plays Sarah and Jeremy Irons plays Charles and the rest of the cast play themselves, with the inevitable conclusion that the two leads start enacting their roles in reality in the present as the past fiction becomes the present fact on the movie set itself ,thus becoming a fascinating study of sexual attitudes from the Victorian period to the contemporary milieu.

The movie has been poetically designed to crossed the past and present with a quaint but haunting emotion that runs across the two periods in a fine thread almost weaving a mystical paradigm which will fascinate those intrigued by novelty and creative imagination in an extremely affective "flashback narrative technique "as the two stories enfold in past and present,except the viewer alone is the target of the flashback and not the characters in the movie itself .

This rather poignant version of a young woman's journey into sexual self indulgence and social ruin in past raises a serious question of whether humanity can avert pre-destined amorous disasters, if given premonitory knoweledge of your adverse future fate and the conclusion derived is that humanity still will venture blindfold as it is the passion,intrigue and excitement which makes life worthy of living in the present itself .

The idea that security is for only the bourgeois, and breaking social tradition becomes both a rebellious spirited act as well as a satisfying inititiative in itself is splendidly rendered here .

Fowle's book is immaculately cast and adapted to render it as a literary and visual accomplishment with a great musical score with charming period details and some intensely romantic visual images of the victorian times with Streep looking sublime in her angst ridden laments .

But Streep outshines everyone as the fragile,doomed,romantic figure awaiting her past beau and than striving with her own desires in the current present as the movie actress , while Iron is admirable in his sangfroid and he is able to give ample scope to Streep to shine but still the doesn't measure up to the book but they seldom do and this is as good as they can muster in these literary adaptations of bona fide classics .
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars AN INTRIGUING CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE..., 22 Feb 2003
By 
Lawyeraau (Balmoral Castle) - See all my reviews
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Having read John Fowles' book upon which the film is based, I have to say that I enjoyed the book more. Still, I must give plaudits to the screenplay by Harold Pinter, as the book with its alternative endings is a little difficult to capture on film. Still, that is just what Pinter did here in a symbolic and ingenious sort of way, with two parallel stories, one contemporary, one Victorian. Coupled with deft direction by Karel Reisz and stunning cinematography, the film fully engages the viewer.
The film is beautifully acted by Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. Steep is positively luminous in the role of the enigmatic Sarah Woodruff, a Victorian woman who is wrongfully castigated by her neighbors for being a scarlet woman. Jeremy Edwards is excellent as Charles, the gentleman who becomes obsessed with her and loses his reputation in order to remain free to pursue her.
Streep is also excellent in the role of the married Anne, the contemporary actress with whom Mike (Jeremy Irons), her costar in a film, is having an affair. He is, however, dissatisfied with Anne's casual attentions and wants more. Anne and Mike became lovers while filming "The French Lieutenant's Woman" with Anne playing the role of Sarah Woodruff and Mike in the role of Charles.
Pinter skillfully weaves these two stories together, making for an unusual cinematic experience, which, while not faithful to the book, is compelling, nonetheless. This is an audaciously imaginative and visually lush film, a story within a story that, while thought provoking, is just a tad off the mark.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The french Lieutenants Woman, 10 Feb 2013
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This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman [DVD] [1981] (DVD)
The french Lieutenants woman is another great movie with Meryl streep at her best .Jeremy Irons played a great part.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A visually beautiful film, 30 Nov 2011
By 
RR Waller "ISeneca" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman [DVD] [1981] (DVD)
Actors Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Hilton McRae, Emily Morgan and Charlotte Mitchell under Karel Reisz's superb, sensitive and fluid direction bring Harold Pinter and John Fowles screenplay to the screen in stunning fashion. Some of the scenes will live in the memory for a long time, so powerful are the visuals and, even now, writing this, I can see some of Reisz's iconic images of this great film.

Set in 19th Century England it is the story of a chance meeting between Sarah (Streep), an eerily beautiful woman, and Charles (Irons), a biologist about to be married; they have a brief but passionate affair but her deep sadness and past force her to leave him. Without giving too much away, the film works on two chronological levels, switching seamlessly between the two parallel stories which mirror each other in many ways.

Visually, this film is stunningly beautiful and haunting in the way the story of Sarah, a Victorian outcast, unfolds to reveal her history.

A great film and, at these prices, a real bargain.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally powerful, 12 Nov 2007
By 
MW van Staden (Randburg, South Africa) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman [DVD] [1981] (DVD)
The French Lieutenant's Woman tells two stories, the story of two lovers in the Victorian age (the biologist Charles played by Jeremy Irons and the outcast Sarah played by Meryl Streep) whose story are being filmed. The two married actors playing the roles of Charles and Sarah, Mike (Irons) and Anna (Streep) are also having an affair during the shooting of the film, thereby giving subtle commentary/enlightenment on the story of the Victorian lovers.

It is emotionally very powerful, as you are strongly pulled into Charles' fascination with Sarah and her behaviour. As a biologist, he is very interested and subscribes to the theories of Charles Darwin, which is of course a laughing matter for the Victorian society, who scoffs at what they believe to be a theory of their descendance from apes. He is a loner, preferring to spend his time alone in the veld, searching for fossils. His saving grace in the eyes of society is that he is rich and therefore he is acceptable, even when he asks the daughter of Mr Freeman, the wealthiest merchant in England, for her hand.

Sarah is an outcast because she had an affair with a wounded French Lieutenant, whom she nursed back to health and fell in love with. When he finally leaves for France, she follows him to the hotel he stays in before his departure. The lieutenant was married and not in love with her, causing her shame. She is forced to become an old woman's companion, but is shunned by society. Her favourite pastime is to walk alone on the quay overlooking the sea, or in the woods. It is here where Charles sees her and becomes obsessed with her. They start meeting. Sarah is dismissed by her mistress on account of her behaviour and has to leave town and Charles follows her. After declaring their love for each other, Charles goes back to break his engagement with his fiancee. This is of course totally unacceptable in the moral ethics of the time and his name is dragged through the mud. When he returns to the hotel, Sarah has left (inexplicably) and he starts a long search to find her.

In the actors affair, Mike also wants more from the married Anna and relentlessly pursues her, even when she goes back to London to be with her husband. It becomes clear that the novel on which the film is based gave two possible endings, a happy and an unhappy ending. The film attempts to capture both, but in the different time zones.

Streep is powerful in both the Sarah and Anna roles and dominates the film - just to see her at the height of her extraordinary power is already a good enough reason to see this film. Unfortunately the psychological motivation for her strange behaviour, especially as Sarah, is not convincingly explained, which is why the movie loses one star in my view. Irons is good as Mike, the actor, but seems a little unsure in his portrayal of the troubled Charles, sometimes overly aggressive (especially as the master in the household when he purports to have some understanding for his footman's indulgence in romance but on the other hand treats him with total disrespect) and other times overly passive (especially in some of the initial interaction with Sarah).

Like many good films, it leaves you with a feeling of "What exactly happened?" at the end, making it necessary to think through the events, the characters and what it meant. Significant is that Mike is calling out for Sarah (not Anna) at the end, therefore implying his search for his own vanishing and elusive dream, attempting to turn fiction (the story of the film) into the reality of the present. See it, it is worth it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars French Lieutenant's Woman, 29 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman [DVD] [1981] (DVD)
The DVD arrived in good time, and was as described. I would use this seller again.

The film was very enjoyable, and had not dated. The background information was also very interesting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Streep - superb as usual, 11 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman [DVD] [1981] (DVD)
An unusual format that mirrors the book, which is about writing a book on the subject. Hence, the film is about making the film with the actors appearing both as their modern characters and as characters in the film. Wonderful direction and performances both by the principals and by the supporting cast.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Watch it!, 21 April 2014
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This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman [DVD] [1981] (DVD)
So... I finally read the book and -at last- I saw the movie!! Well,even though, as usual I preferred the book, I did like the film as well. Very much. Meryl Streep was unbelievable, I just loved every quote that she said. She managed to show the peculiar Sarah's character and to create a very interesting character for Anna, as well. Jeremy Irons was great also. Generally, all the cast played good. However, I didn't like Lynsey Baxter as Ernestina. I think she didn't appear as young as it was supposed too, and that she was saying the lines sooo slowly that it get annoyed after some time. I also didn't like the idea of adding Anna's and Mike's world in the story. I'd rather prefer just to be in Sarah's and Charles' reality. It's true that John Fowles often interrupt the narration to comment something or to compare the two centuries. However, Anna's and Mike's existence didn't touch his comments at all. In the first half of the film their scenes last too little so they are not useful. In the second half their story becomes more interesting but at the end it seemed to me that it was a small and fast-made movie, violently put into J.F's story. In other words, I'd like to see Anna's and Mike's story in a different movie! Additionally, It wasn't justified -to my opinion- Anna's behavior at the end that reminds us Sarah! Yet, I have to admit that I was impressed because Meryl and Jeremy could easily "play themselves" as Anna and Mike. But, I was not seeing Meryl and Iron on the screen, even they were playing two characters so common to their reality, they find their own character's personality -a personality different than theirs. I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. In conclusion, I believe that if I hadn't read the book and haven't seen the movie on the laptop (I couldn't find it in a DVD) I'd like it much more! It is a story that you have to learn either from the film, either from the book, they both have their own magic!
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The French Lieutenant's Woman [DVD] [1981]
The French Lieutenant's Woman [DVD] [1981] by Karel Reisz (DVD - 2002)
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