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The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

R  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  16 October 1981 (USA)
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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 »



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Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 10 wins & 13 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:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The two years that this motion picture are set in are 1867 in the Victorian England era and 1980 in the modern Britain contemporary times. See more »


Charles approaches the shore on a steam powered launch from the north. The next shot is also a shot in motion, suggesting from Charles' viewpoint, of Broad Leys, a white house high up on the shore where Sarah is working. Except the view of Broad Leys is as though from the south. See more »


Sarah: I have long imagined a day such as this. I have longed for it. I was lost from the moment I saw you.
Charles Henry Smithson: I too.
See more »


Adagio from Sonata in D, K 576
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (as Mozart)
Played by John Lill
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

An inspiration to Goths everywhere
19 August 2000 | by (Portage, MI) – See all my reviews

If you're researching the beginnings of today's Goth movement, be sure to look at this complex tale of Sarah Woodruff (Meryl Streep), a secretive, pale-skinned outcast in a 19th century English coastal town. Known to the locals as "poor tragedy," she sketches spooky self-portraits, always dresses in black and haunts the sea wall waiting for the return of a Frenchman who seduced and abandoned her. With a single, unforgettable look and such dialogue as "my only happiness is when I sleep; when I wake, the nightmare begins," Sarah bewitches visiting Londoner Charles Smithson (Jeremy Irons, in what turned out to be his big break), a paleontologist and "gentleman of leisure." The tricky screenplay by Harold Pinter contrasts the story of Sarah and Charles with the lives of actors Mike and Anna, who are playing them in a film. Offscreen, Anna is anything but Victorian, indulging in an on-location affair with Mike while her husband is away. The contrasts between the two couples born 100 years apart make for one of the most intriguing films of the early 1980s, and the performances by Irons and Streep are predictably outstanding.

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