The French Lieutenant’s Woman – 35 years later
French Lieutenant’s Woman
The Cobb at Lyme Regis, near where Smithson and Ernestina first encounter Sarah.
The novel written by John Fowles was considered unfilmable.
The script was entrusted to Harold Pinter who added the concept of a parallel modern story about a film being made at the time. Pinter had elevated the screenplay to a literary art form.
The third man entrusted with the project was director Karel Reisz, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia.
Although made with characters drawn from the 19th century, the film is very modern in its approach. In spite of the trauma in her life, the “older” Sarah remains an enigma. The modern couple by comparison is more conventional. The Victorian hero starts out as a standard man, hopeful of making a good marriage. He is a Darwinist and a fossil collector and is teased for it. Owing to a natural phenomenon, it seems Lyme Regis is a rich fossil hunting area (even today).
Streep was told to use a standard accent in order that her class and family remained unpredictable
Streep had only one black dress of thin wool with several folds to contain warmth. Most women wore black to hide the dirt. The wealthier women could afford colour. The dress designer had to be unimaginative with the heroine, but not with the girl playing the fiancee. In fact she has an entire outfit made for just one scene where she is practising her archery.
Meryl enjoyed walking in the English woods. She remarked that there was no under brush like in USA, where poison ivy was rampant. While Irons was comfortable running on the stormy pier, Meryl had to use the help of a man in a black cape for that iconic first scene. She showed her face only in a close-up! She said she was a girl from New Jersey playing a character from Jersey.
A line that proved prophetic
Smithson: “you are a remarkable woman”
Sarah: “yes I am”.