close [×]

Dear Flixster Community,

After seven fabulous years with you all, we are sorry to let you know that we're going to be retiring the Flixster Community site on September 30, 2014. Please note that you can still access your ratings, reviews, and quizzes on Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes using your same login. We have had so much fun building this community with you.

Thanks for all the memories,

Get movie widget Recommend it Add to Favorites

Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Hilton McRae, Emily Morgan, Charlotte Mitchell ... see more see more... , Lynsey Baxter , Jean Faulds , Peter Vaughan , Colin Jeavons , Liz Smith , Patience Collier , John Barrett , Leo McKern , Arabella Weir , Ben Forster , Catherine Willmer , Anthony Langdon , Edward Duke , Richard Griffiths , Graham Fletcher-Cook , Michael Elwyn , Toni Palmer , Cecily Hobbs , Doreen Mantle , David Warner , Peter Fraser , Beverly Garland , Vicky Ireland , Mary McLeod Bethune , Harriet Walter , Clare Travers-Deacon , Joanna Joseph , Richard Hope , Alun Armstrong , Gerard Falconetti , Penelope Wilton

John Fowles' original novel The French Lieutenant's Woman was distinguished by a literary technique that involved telling a story of Victorian sexual and social oppression within the bounds of a 1970s... read more read more... viewpoint. How does one convey this time-frame dichotomy on film? The decision made by director Karel Reisz and Harold Pinter was to frame Fowles' basic plot within a "modern" context of their own making. While we watch as Sarah (Meryl Streep), a 19th-century Englishwoman ruined by an affair with a French lieutenant, enters into another disastrous relationship with principled young Charles (Jeremy Irons), we are constantly made aware that what we're seeing is only a film. This is done by surrounding the story with a modern narrative, focusing on a movie production company which is on location--filming The French Lieutenant's Woman. Meryl Streep doubles in the role of Sara and the American actress who plays her, while Jeremy Irons essays the dual role of Charles and the handsome Briton playing Charles. Likewise, everyone else in the cast is seen as "themselves" and as their French Lieutenant's Woman characters. Not surprisingly, the "real" Streep and Irons enter into an affair which closely parallels their characters' relationship. The commercial TV version of French Lieutenant's Woman eliminates 30 minutes' worth of "extraneous" scenes. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Flixster Users

68% liked it

6,748 ratings


80% liked it

15 critics

R, 2 hr. 7 min.

Directed by: Karel Reisz

Release Date: August 1, 1981

Invite friends to see

DVD Release Date: September 4, 2001

Stats: 298 reviews

Your Rating

clear rating

Flixster Reviews (298)

  • February 2, 2011
    This film interweaves two two-character dramas: as adulterous actors film a melodrama about a 19th Century adulterous couple, they begin to develop their own off-the-set feelings.
    As a fan of his stage work and the film The Last Tycoon, I was excited to see more of Harol... read mored Pinter's work, but The French Lieutenant's Woman conspicuously lacks Pinter's characteristic pregnant pauses and focus on subtext. Yes, there's is a short scene between Smithson and his servant when we're to understand that the latter is blackmailing the former, but it's hardly as rich as Pinter's stage work. My expectations notwithstanding, the script provides us with precious few compelling scenes. More importantly, for most of the film I was unsure about why these two stories were being juxtaposed. What is this film saying about relationships and adultery? Sometimes it works, sometimes not? It's destructive? Either way, there's not much to sink our teeth into.
    Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep try their best to wring some meta-textual complexity out of the story, but whereas Roger Ebert sees depth in their performances - he states, "Everything they say and do has another level of meaning, because we know the 'real' relationship between the actors themselves" - I saw actors and characters divorced, separated, as though these were two films that happened to be cut together. Thus, what I think is true of the script is also true of the performances.
    Overall, the film's attempt to become greater than the sum of its parts only leaves us confused.
  • December 9, 2010
    Extremely well done, slow and deliberate unraveling of two intertwined love stories.
  • November 6, 2010
    The two love stories that are the link in this film would have been very boring in their own right, but mix the two, the time differences, the character changes and this film becomes a paradox of itself. It's tough going and not particularly exciting, but with Jeremy Irons and M... read moreeryl Streep it's easy to spot this as a performance driven film.
  • fb721890245
    August 29, 2013
    Meryl Streep does her best in a meandering film. The TV version apparently is shorter but I doubt that it does much to pick up the slow action in an otherwise dull period piece.
  • fb20312798
    June 12, 2010
    Well acted, but the modern part of the story is silly and without any real point. That and the ending is a train wreck. Its not all bad, just rather tedious.
  • September 2, 2009
    Sly, self-reflexive adaptation and movie-within-a-movie, having both a fictionalized and a real component complement each other, a meta-fictional technique used to great effect. As well as Harold Pinter's brilliant screenplay, Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons manage to keep their re... read morespective roles distinctive, yet parallel.
  • March 31, 2009
    Fantastic performance from Jeremy Irons, and of course Meryl Streep is flawless. 1981's interpretation of a period piece, contrasted with '81 present day. I became a huge fan of 70s and more early 80s movies, for quality movies - slower pace, more left to the viewer to discover... read more. Brilliant. If you like period pieces and amazing acting, you will like this.
  • September 16, 2014
    Just too cold and lifeless for my tastes. I usually love the repression filled costume dramas, but this never peaked my interest. Streep and Irons are fine, but their characters never got me very invested.
  • August 19, 2010
    Yet again I am plagued with the experiance of rating and reviewing a Meryl Streep film. I suppose the performances were well done, a bit dramatic, but well done. The plot itself was too obvious, and call-able, but it was slightly romantic and sometimes entertaining. I found it we... read morent on too long though, though it wasn't much more than two hours it felt like much more. Overall, an okay film that Meryl Streep fans with like, but others might not.
  • October 21, 2009
    Though this had all the elements needed for a good period romance, it ends up being less than the sum of its parts. The storyline is both simple and complicated but never engaging. Somehow it all just felt clinical. But the sex scene ranks right up there with the most awkward ... read moreI have yet to see (outside of my own bedroom that is)

Critic Reviews

Dennis Schwartz
July 10, 2006
Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews

A shallow, confusing and vexing film. Full Review

Emanuel Levy
December 18, 2004
Emanuel Levy, EmanuelLevy.Com

Playing a dual (Oscar-nominated) role, Meryl Streep is much more convincing in the contemporay tale. Full Review

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
January 15, 2002
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice

A gripping psychological study of the war between the sexes that asks the question: Are we happier, wiser, more liberated, than the Victorian characters in the story? Full Review

Dan Jardine
November 13, 2001
Dan Jardine, Daily-Reviews

the film comes off as an academic exercise instead of a living, breathing testament to the ideas it presents.

Scott Weinberg
October 28, 2001
Scott Weinberg, Apollo Guide

It may be a true "chick flick," but as far as those movies go, you could do a hell of a lot worse. Full Review

Christopher Null
August 31, 2001
Christopher Null,

Characters don't talk to each other -- they talk to the camera Full Review

February 11, 2006
Time Out

Click to read the article Full Review

Roger Ebert
October 23, 2004
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Click to read the article Full Review

Vincent Canby
May 20, 2003
Vincent Canby, New York Times

Click to read the article Full Review

Carol Cling
November 7, 2003
Carol Cling, Las Vegas Review-Journal

No review available.

Critic ratings and reviews powered by

Fresh (60% or more critics rated the movie positively)

Rotten (59% or fewer critics rated the movie positively)

More Like This

Click a thumb to vote on that suggestion, or add your own suggestions.

  • The Majestic
    The Majestic (40%)
  • The Bridges of Madison County
    The Bridges of Madison County (50%)
  • Being John Malkovich
    Being John Malkovich (33%)
  • Barry Lyndon
    Barry Lyndon (100%)


No facts approved yet. Be the first

The French Lieute... : Watch Free on TV

Movie Quizzes

Video Clips

No video clips yet. Want to upload one?

Recent News

No recent headlines. Got one?

Recent Lists

Most Popular Skin

No skins yet. Interested in creating one?