For Reel

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)
February 27, 2016, 5:34 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Karel Reisz
2.5 Stars
The French Lieutenant's WomanMeryl Streep was the new Queen of Hollywood when The French Lieutenant’s Woman was released in 1981. Although she had won the Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer just two years before, she had never starred in a true leading role prior to the risky adaptation of John Fowles’ postmodern novel. The film casts her in the dual roles of Sarah Woodruff and Anna–or, the character of the Victorian romance that makes up the bulk of the screen time and the actress that’s playing her in a filmed adaptation of the material. Similarly, Jeremy Irons plays her lover in both timelines, with the intercutting between worlds often serving to show an ironic contrast in the similarities and differences of their affairs. Streep’s acting challenge is in bringing a contemporary performance to the modern story and something more theatrical to the character of Sarah Woodruff, and at least in the later timeline, it’s a dismal failure. At this point in her career, Streep is all technique, and each line she delivers doesn’t seem so much like it is coming from within the character, but rather read from a script and delivered with entirely-too calculated mannerisms. The sequence in which she reveals the tragic story of Varguennes in a forest is a disaster–Streep gives the lines no feeling, and as a result, Irons is left dead in the water, his reaction shots automatically rendered unconvincing due to the scene’s very unnaturalness. Of course, Fowles’ novel was known for its distancing techniques, and perhaps director Karel Reisz and screenwriter Harold Pinter were just as keen on revealing the falsities of the love affair at the center of the story. But, even as a story about illusions, it is never seductive enough make any of them convincing or, worse yet, compelling.

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