[box cover]

The French Lieutenant's Woman

Meryl Streep was born to play roles like this. The much-awarded actress, adept at accents and costume dramas, is at her best playing Sarah Woodruff/Anna in the classic romance The French Lieutenant's Woman. Based on the novel by John Fowles, playwright Harold Pinter's script gives Streep impassioned speeches and burning glances galore as the film's double-romance unfolds. For not only does Streep play Anna, a modern American actress having an adulterous affair with her co-star, Mike (Jeremy Irons), but she's also Anna-playing-Sarah Woodruff, a pale, tortured soul in Victorian England who's been ostracized by her community for her shameful affection for a married Frenchman. As Anna and Mike's relationship gets complicated in the present, so does Sarah's with mild-mannered gentleman scientist Charles (Irons again), who ends up risking everything for the mysterious, desperate Miss Woodruff. When you eventually realize that, in both situations, it's Streep and her characters who are fully in control, you appreciate anew the extent of her talent: This woman can act. Irons isn't too shabby either; his Charles is a study in self-delusion and the slow loss of control. By the time he finally gives into his passion and anger, it's a relief. Also fascinating is the movie's implicit comparison between unsanctioned affairs in the 1800s and the modern world (in this case, 1981, when the film was made); times may have changed, but the secrecy and obsession surrounding such trysts sure haven't. The film's tragic, star-crossed mood is enhanced by the wild seaside setting of Lyme, the dark streets of Victorian London, and the serious, sometimes-ominous score; this isn't a light-hearted "chick flick" romance. And it's all the better for it; after all, sometimes love is agony. The film has aged fairly well and looks good (if dark, due to the sets and scenery) on DVD. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is clear, and the English mono soundtrack is adequate for a movie that's all about stolen moments of conversation. Other audio options include French and Spanish mono tracks, plus French and Spanish subtitles and the original theatrical trailer. The one-page title card offers a scene index and cast credits. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech



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