The French Lieutenant's Woman

Directed by Karel Reisz

Monday 03 March 2008 13:19 GMT

The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981) concerns the love affair between a Victorian gentleman and a woman who has been jilted by a French officer, scandalizing the "polite society" of Lyme Regis. It is based on the novel of the same title by John Fowles and adapted by playwright Harold Pinter. Instead of trying to create a literal translation of the novel's alternate endings, Pinter's screenplay adopted a more cinematic approach by revealing a story within a story - showing the lives of the actors who portray Fowles' characters. The characters' story ends one way, the actors' another.

A film is being made of a story, set in 19th century England, about Charles, a biologist who's engaged to be married, but who falls in love with outcast Sarah, whose melancholy makes her leave him after a short, but passionate affair. Anna and Mike, who play the characters of Sarah and Charles, go, during the shooting of the film, through a relationship that runs parallel to that of their characters.


Karel Reisz


Harold Pinter (screenplay)

John Fowles (novel)


Meryl Streep Sarah / Anna

Jeremy Irons Charles Henry Smithson / Mike

Hilton McRae Sam

David Warner Murphy

Penelope Wilton Sonia

Leo McKern Dr. Grogan

Emily Morgan Mary

Charlotte Mitchell Mrs. Tranter

Lynsey Baxter Ernestina

Peter Vaughan Mr. Freeman

Liz Smith Mrs. Fairley

Patience Collier Mrs. Poulteney


  • Meryl Streep won a Golden Globe for Best Actress.
  • The film was nominated for 5 Oscars including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Meryl Streep, Best Costume Design and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
  • It was nominated for 8 Baftas including Best Actor for Jeremy Irons, Best Film, and Best Screenplay for Harold Pinter.

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