The French Lieutenant's Woman
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OscarÂ(r) winners* Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons star as two separate pairs of lovers in this "jarring, engaging [and] beautifully visualized" film (Leonard Maltin). Embraced by audiences andcritics alikeand garnering five 1981 Academy AwardÂ(r) nominations**, including Best Actress (Streep)The French Lieutenant's Woman will forever remain one of the most literate, imaginative and stunning love stories ever to grace the screen. As Mike and Anna, two film actors involved in a tumultuous affair, and Charles and Sarah, the star-crossed Victorian lovers whomthe actors portray, Streep and Irons are at their compelling best. Just as his character Charles' reputation is ruined by the enigmatic Sarah, Mike finds he cannot accept the intangible affections ofthe wiley Anna. The skillful interweaving of these two love storiesone period, one contemporaryyields a fascinating insight into the passion and mystery that can pull two people together...and just as easily tear them apart. *Streep: Actress, Sophie's Choice (1982); SupportingActress, Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)/Irons: Actor, Reversal of Fortune (1990) **Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design, Film Editing
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The cinematography here is amazing as others have mentioned, a feast for the eyes if you don't try too hard to figure out the characters. In essence, the Victorian Charles is a typical man of his age, rather repressed, and he has always followed social conventions. And so he arrives at an age where he realizes it is time to marry, and casting about for the nearest suitable female, he finds Ernestina.
Charles has apparently had little or no experience with the bottom 90% of the social pyramid and not much experience with emotional intensity or passion. When he meets Sarah, something in her sparks the flame, symbolized by her masses of unruly, sexy red hair (a wig) tumbling about her shoulders, just inviting a roll in the hay. In contrast, we see Ernestina with an almost ridiculous looking and contrived hairstyle, so elaborate and difficult to maintain as to preclude any possibility of sex.
The modern day story of Mike and Anna offers an unusual parallel. Although Anna has quite a lot in common psychologically with her Victorian counterpart, she wears a very businesslike, no-nonsense hairstyle that lets us know she is all about the convenience of the moment. She enjoys Mike superficially, but isn't interested in taking the relationship any further. That is obvious from her facial expressions and body language. She uses Mike for sex with no emotional investment whatsoever, just like Victorian men of their day used prostitutes. Her husband, David, who just happens to be French, apparently does not want to know what she is doing. He is a very peripheral character with a tiny role. We learn nothing of their relationship, it's left a mystery for a reason. Mike doesn't seem to pick up on her lack of investment. Is he as clueless about relationships as Charles? Anna succeeds in avoiding ever discussing their future, and in the final scene, we see Mike alone on the set, the red wig left behind on a stand. He calls out despairingly to "Sarah", as Anna drives away.
Interesting film, a chick flick, of course. The depiction of Victorian mores is quite good. Thirty five years later, the relationships and characters don't seem quite as believable or compelling, but it holds up fairly well. Just don't ask "why". Love means never having to explain yourself, or your hair.
We are transported back and forth through time as present day actors making a movie are parallel and overlapped with the characters and the story. We easily see the contrasts and the similarities between the Victorian Sarah and the modern Ann both played by Meryl Streep.
The story on the surface is a strait forwarded mystery and Sarah is not what see seems. However, there are many depths to this film in what is says and what it does not. A biologist Charles Henry Smithson (Jeremy Irons) is finally engaged to a woman who has been trying to tie him down. He will inherit a place in her father's empire if he wishes to do so. At the last moment, he discovers a strange outcast woman that enchant hem and lures hem astray only to disappear from his life. The actors' lives are similar.
Will Charles find Sarah or is his fate to be alone?
What about Ann and Mike?
Many people remember the picturesque scene of Sarah on the Cobb looking out to sea; however, for me it is a scene where the actors are discussing how she is caught on the brambles and trips. In the next scene, it is played out.