“I have set myself beyond the pale. I am nothing. I am hardly human any more.”
In a film set in 19th century England, a biologist (Jeremy Irons) engaged to an upstanding young woman (Lynsey Baxter) falls in love with a mysterious “fallen woman” (Meryl Streep). Meanwhile, the actors (Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep) playing the leads carry on an affair during the film’s shooting.
Meryl Streep is nothing short of extraordinary in this film version of John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman. As both the titular heroine and the modern-day actress (Sarah) playing her, Streep astonishes us with her ability to completely immerse herself in dual roles. Yet it’s Anna — the “French lieutenant’s woman” — who ultimately captures our interest most keenly; she’s far more complex — and intriguing — than one would have imagined. Jeremy Irons, with his perennially concerned expression, is appropriately cast as Anna’s forlorn suitor, and the supporting cast members are all effective as well — but it’s Streep we’re really watching and waiting for.
Playwright Harold Pinter wrote the film’s screenplay, adding the parallel love story set in modern times in an attempt to provide a latter-day commentary. While it’s ultimately unnecessary, it never detracts from the power of the primary story, and remains a clever narrative device. Yet it’s the historical drama which holds the most interest, as we anxiously await the outcome of Irons’ doomed attraction. Fortunately, we’re rewarded for our patience: the plot takes unexpected twists and turns, and, like any good romantic mystery, makes us question what’s come before.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Meryl Streep’s wonderful performance(s)
- Jeremy Irons as the fatally love-struck Charles
- Beautifully evoked period detail
- Effective use of natural settings to convey the turmoil of Charles and Sara’s burgeoning romance
Yes, for Streep’s standout performance