|The French Lieutenant's Woman|
Original film poster
|Directed by||Karel Reisz|
|Produced by||Leon Clore|
|Written by||Harold Pinter|
|Based on||The French Lieutenant's Woman|
by John Fowles
|Music by||Carl Davis|
|Edited by||John Bloom|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|18 September 1981|
The French Lieutenant's Woman is a 1981 British romantic drama film directed by Karel Reisz, produced by Leon Clore, and adapted by playwright Harold Pinter. It is based on the eponymous 1969 novel by John Fowles. The music score is by Carl Davis and the cinematography by Freddie Francis.
The film stars Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. Other featured actors include Hilton McRae, Peter Vaughan, Colin Jeavons, Liz Smith, Patience Collier, Richard Griffiths, David Warner, Alun Armstrong, Penelope Wilton, and Leo McKern.
The film intercuts the stories of two romantic affairs. One is within a Victorian period drama involving a gentleman palaeontologist, Charles Smithson, and the complex and troubled Sarah Woodruff, known as "the French lieutenant's woman." The other affair is between actors Mike and Anna, playing the lead roles in a modern filming of the story. In both segments, Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep play the lead roles.
John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman had multiple endings, and the two parallel stories in the movie have different outcomes. In the Victorian story, Charles enters into an intensely emotional relationship with Sarah, an enigmatic and self-imposed exile he meets while visiting his fiancée Ernestina (Lynsey Baxter) in Lyme Regis. Charles and Sarah meet secretly in the Lyme Regis Undercliff, and eventually have sex in an Exeter hotel. This leads to Charles' breaking his engagement, but then Sarah disappears. In social disgrace after being sued for breach of promise by Ernestina, Charles searches for Sarah, fearing she has become a prostitute in London. After three years, Sarah, who has a job as a governess in the Lake District, contacts Charles to explain that she needed time to find herself. Despite Charles's initial anger, he forgives her, and the two are reconciled. They are finally seen boating on Windermere.
In the modern story, the American actress Anna and the English actor Mike, both married, are shown as having an extended affair during the making of the Victorian film, in which Anna plays Sarah and Mike portrays Charles. As filming concludes, Mike wishes to continue the relationship, but Anna becomes increasingly cool about the affair and avoids Mike in favour of spending time with her French husband. During the film's wrap party, Anna leaves without saying goodbye to Mike. Mike calls to Anna from an upstairs window on the set where Charles and Sarah had reconciled, as she drives away, using her character's name Sarah.
Harold Pinter and Karel Reisz worked on the script in 1979, with Leon Clore as producer, and with whom Reisz regularly worked in their company Film Contracts, formed many years earlier. Leon had produced Reisz' Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment. The film was shot in 1980 on location in Lyme Regis, Exeter, London docks, and Lake Windermere. Studio sets were built at London's Twickenham Studios to Assheton Gorton's period-perfect designs. The opening shot in the film establishes the dual stories by having the assistant director mark the shot with a clapper board, and then run out of the shot to reveal the Victorian seaside front, with Charles' and Ernestine's taking the air.
The audience is given alternating sequences of a rigid Victorian society, and the more relaxed modern life of a working film crew, revealing the great moral divide between past and present. Prostitution, Considered in Its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects, an 1857 book by William Acton, is referenced in the film when Streep's character mentions that in 1857 there were 80,000 prostitutes in the London and that one house in 60 functioned as a brothel.
The book was published in 1969. Its transfer to the big screen was a protracted process, with film rights changing hands a number of times before a treatment, funds, and cast were finalized. Originally, Malcolm Bradbury and Christopher Bigsby approached Fowles to suggest a television adaptation, to which Fowles was amenable, but producer Saul Zaentz finally arranged for the film version to be made.
A number of directors were attached to the film: Sidney Lumet, Robert Bolt, Fred Zinnemann, and Milo? Forman. The script went through a number of treatments, including one by Dennis Potter in 1975 and by James Costigan in 1976, before Pinter's final draft.
Actors considered for the role of Charles Smithson/Mike included Robert Redford and Richard Chamberlain, and Sarah/Anna included Francesca Annis, Charlotte Rampling, Gemma Jones, and Fowles's choice Helen Mirren.
The award-winning music was composed by Carl Davis and performed by an unidentified orchestra and viola soloist Kenneth Essex.