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The French Lieutenant's Woman Reviews

Translating John Fowles' complex novel to the screen was a formidable task, previously attempted--then abandoned--by the likes of Fred Zinnemann, Richard Lester and Mike Nichols. Undaunted, director Karel Reisz joined forces with esteemed playwright Harold Pinter to convey the essence of Fowles' epic romance. In a technically flawless performance, Meryl Streep plays Sarah Woodruff, a mysterious pariah in mourning who has been dishonored after a affair with a French army officer in Victorian England. In his first starring role, Jeremy Irons portrays Charles Smithson, the wealthy young man of principle who finds her and falls hopelessly in love. Pinter's screenplay shrewdly incorporates both the novel's 19th-century point of view and, underscoring the oppressive constraints of Victorian society, a contemporary tale featuring Streep and Irons as Anna and Mike, the sophisticated actors playing Sarah and Charles in a film adaptation of The French Lieutenant's Woman who casually embark on their own affair--with decidedly different results. Though occasionally jarring, the intercutting between the parallel stories, aided immeasurably by Streep's disparate characterizations, succeeds in conveying the complexity of Fowles' novel.