The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

R  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  16 October 1981 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 8,677 users  
Reviews: 58 user | 31 critic

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 ... See full summary »



(novel), (screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 9 wins & 14 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Hilton McRae ...
Emily Morgan ...
Charlotte Mitchell ...
Mrs. Tranter
Lynsey Baxter ...
Jean Faulds ...
Colin Jeavons ...
Liz Smith ...
Mrs. Fairley
Patience Collier ...
Mrs. Poulteney
John Barrett ...
Dr. Grogan
Arabella Weir ...
Girl on Undercliff
Ben Forster ...
Boy on Undercliff


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. Written by Leon Wolters <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


She was lost from the moment she saw him.


Drama | Romance


R | See all certifications »




Release Date:

16 October 1981 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La amante del teniente francés  »

Box Office


SEK 4,392,234 (Sweden)

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film's two top-billed lead actors both played dual roles each for characters featured in two separate times, period and contemporary. Actress Meryl Streep portrayed both Anna and Sarah Woodruff whilst actor Jeremy Irons played both Mike and Charles Henry Smithson. See more »


Early in the film, as Charles is going on to the jetty to warn Sarah, his cape changes in how it is buttoned from shot to shot. See more »


Sarah: I am the French Lieutenant's... whore.
See more »


Featured in Precious Images (1986) See more »


Prelude in C minor
by Johann Sebastian Bach
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Romanticism without the "base" alloy of actual feeling
11 February 2005 | by (Topeka, KS) – See all my reviews

This is a real curio of a movie, more a dry experiment with form than a story concerning fleshed-out characters. The primary focus is on the plot developments of a film within the film--a story of two illicit lovers in 19th century England--while a secondary narrative follows the two leads in that film who pursue a similar relationship to the one they portray. The way these two stories intercut back and forth is, unfortunately, one of the few interesting things in the movie. Unique to this presentation is the way the Victorian Era scenes are shown only (with the opening scene being a lone exception) as a finished product, that is, we see that part of the film as its theoretical audience would. There are no shots of cameras in the foreground, no scenes of director and crew watching rushes in a darkened theater. This device might have allowed the viewer to become more involved in the "old-time" goings on--if only we had been given something, anything onto which we could have hung our emotional hats. This is the insurmountable problem of "The French Lieutenant's Woman." While the Victorian Era plot is luxuriantly mounted--while the characters are played by wonderful actors--the "heart" of this film is occupied by this film within a film device. While interesting, it's not enough to keep our interest from flagging. In both story lines, emotions are uniformly muted, or absent altogether. The 20th century story is about two bored actors who engage in their affair simply as a distraction from the tedium of making a movie. No hint of passion here. The Victorian narrative at least provides a HINT of feeling, but always held at arms length--and further attenuated by the inevitable return to the modern story, reminding us that the "costumer" portion of the film is not only not real, but TWICE removed from reality. There is a scene at the end of the movie where all signs point to some grand cathartic denouement--a scene where, finally, we will be swept up into the currents of these players' lives, the promise of romance finally realized. Instead we are given an awkward, bumbled scene without so much as a kiss or an eloquent avowal of love. We are left with a muted, distant view of the two purported lovers on a lake--its surface as calm and unmoved as the film's audience. A disappointing end to a disappointing film.

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