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The French Lieutenant's Woman (film)

The French Lieutenant's Woman
Original film poster
Directed by Karel Reisz
Produced by Leon Clore
Written by Harold Pinter
Based on The French Lieutenant's Woman
by John Fowles
Starring Meryl Streep
Jeremy Irons
David Warner
Music by Carl Davis
Cinematography Freddie Francis
Edited by John Bloom
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
18 September 1981
Running time
127 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $8 million[1]
Box office $26,890,068[2]

The French Lieutenant's Woman is a 1981 film directed by Karel Reisz, produced by Leon Clore and adapted by playwright Harold Pinter. It is based on the novel by John Fowles. The music score is by Carl Davis and the cinematography by Freddie Francis.

The film stars Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons with Hilton McRae, Jean Faulds, Peter Vaughan, Colin Jeavons, Liz Smith, Patience Collier, Richard Griffiths, David Warner, Alun Armstrong, Penelope Wilton, and Leo McKern.

The film was nominated for five Academy Awards: Streep was nominated for Academy Award for Best Actress, and the film was nominated for Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), but both lost to On Golden Pond.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production notes 3
  • Awards and nominations 4
    • Academy Awards 4.1
    • BAFTA Awards 4.2
    • Golden Globe Awards 4.3
    • Other awards 4.4
  • References 5
    • Bibliography 5.1
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


The film intercuts the stories of two affairs: one a Victorian period drama involving the gentleman palaeontologist Charles Smithson and the complex and troubled Sarah Woodruff, "The French Lieutenant's Woman"; the other between the actors "Mike" and "Anna", playing the lead roles in a modern filming of the story. In both segments, Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep play the lead roles, but in line with John Fowles' source novel having multiple endings, the two otherwise parallel stories have different outcomes.

In the Victorian story, Charles enters into an intensely emotional relationship with Sarah, an enigmatic and self-inflicted outcast he meets while visiting his fiance Ernestina (Lake Windermere.

In the modern story, the American actress Anna and the English actor Mike, both married, are shown as having an established affair during the making of the film. As filming concludes, although Mike wishes to continue the relationship, Anna becomes increasingly cool about the affair, and avoids Mike in favour of spending time with her French husband. During the film wrap party, Anna leaves without saying goodbye; Mike calls out to Anna from an upstairs window as she drives away, using her character name, Sarah.


Production notes

Harold Pinter and Karel Reisz worked on the script in 1979, with Leon Clore as producer, and with whom Karel regularly worked in their company Film Contracts, formed many years earlier. Leon had produced Karel's William Acton, Prostitution, Considered in Its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects, is referenced in the film, when Streep mentioned that according to Acton's report, the Lancet estimated that in 1857 there were 80,000 prostitutes in the County of London and that one house in 60 functioned as a brothel. [3]

The book was published in 1969. Its transfer to the big screen was a protracted process, with film rights changing hands a number of times before a treatment, funding, and cast were finalised. Originally, Malcolm Bradbury and Christopher Bigsby approached Fowles to suggest a television adaptation, to which Fowles was amenable, but producer Saul Zaentz finally arranged for the film version to go ahead.

A number of directors were attached to the film: Sidney Lumet, Robert Bolt, Fred Zinnemann, and Miloš Forman. The script went through a number of treatments, including one by Dennis Potter in 1975 and by James Costigan in 1976, before Pinter's final draft.

Actors considered for the role of Charles Smithson/Mike included Robert Redford and Richard Chamberlain, and Sarah/Anna included Francesca Annis, Gemma Jones, and Fowles' choice Helen Mirren.[4]

The award-winning music was composed by Carl Davis and performed by an unidentified orchestra and viola soloist Kenneth Essex.

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards


BAFTA Awards

  • Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music: Carl Davis
  • Best Actress: Meryl Streep
  • Best Sound: Don Sharp, Ivan Sharrock, Bill Rowe
  • Best Film (Leon Clore)
  • Best Actor: Jeremy Irons
  • Best Cinematography: Freddie Francis
  • Best Costume Design: Tom Rand
  • Best Direction: Karel Reisz
  • Best Editing: John Bloom
  • Best Production Design/Art Direction: Assheton Gorton
  • Best Screenplay: Harold Pinter

Golden Globe Awards


Other awards


  1. ^ "The Unstoppables".  
  2. ^ "The French Lieutenant's Woman".  
  3. ^ Gale, p. 245.
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981): Awards".  


  • Gale, Steven H. Sharp Cut: Harold Pinter's Screenplays and the Artistic Process. University Press of Kentucky.  

Further reading

  • Bayer, Gerd (2010). "On Filming Metafiction: John Fowles's Unpublished 'The Last Chapter' and the Road to Postmodern Cinema". English Studies 91 (8): 893–906.  
  • Gale, Steven H. (2001). : A Masterpiece of Adaptation"The French Lieutenant's Woman"Harold Pinter's . In Gale, Steven H. The Films of Harold Pinter. Albany: State University of New York Press, Albany. pp. 69–86.  

External links

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