John Fowles' novel is a full-blooded 19th century romance, but written in 1969 and addressed to the intellectual vanity of the modern reader by means of confidential asides, footnotes which titillate while purporting to add documentary authority (all that absurdly solemn stuff about sausage skins and condoms), and frequent recourse to passwords like Darwin, Marx and (just once) Freud. As a result it places that easy target - repressed Victorian sexuality - well within our drooling sights. Harold Pinter's screenplay gives flesh to this 20th century perspective with a parallel story: not only do Streep and Irons play the 19th century lovers, they are also cast as a pair of adulterous sophisticates, swotting up on Victorian social history between takes during filming of The French Lieutenant's Woman. As a solution to the almost impossible problem of adapting the book, this film-within-a-film idea is an honourable failure, providing a modest, nearly redundant framework since the Victorian sequences stand on their own merits, with performances (the pre-Raphaelite Streep is outstanding), exquisite photography (Freddie Francis) and Reisz's direction combining to deliver a powerful and persuasive anatomy of passion.
The French Lieutenant's Woman
Cast and crew