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The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981) Poster

Trivia

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"The Cobb" is the old harbor wall at Lyme Regis where we see "that scene" as Sarah / Anna stands on the harbor wall as the waves crash around her. It was deemed too dangerous for Meryl to get up onto the Cobb while the waves were crashing. So any distance shots actually have one of the art directors standing in for her. The close ups were done in the safety of the studio.
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The role of Charles Henry Smithson was first offered to James Fox who was then returning to acting after a decade working for an Evangelical Christian movement. Fox turned the part down "for moral reasons". The role in the end was cast with Jeremy Irons.
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Wendy Morgan was offered the role of Mary but accepted a stage play instead. Emily Morgan was in the end cast in the part.
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An attempt to adapt the novel was made in the 1970's, to star Vanessa Redgrave, but a satisfactory script couldn't be written, and funding was a problem.
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Harriet Walter filmed a major featured role, which was totally deleted from the final print.
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First of two cinema movies starring Jeremy Irons' and written by playwright Harold Pinter. The second and final film would be around two year's later with Betrayal (1983).
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The film was made and released about twelve years after its source novel of the same name by John Fowles had been first published in 1969.
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First major lead starring role in a major motion picture of actor Jeremy Irons.
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A number of directors were attached to the production prior to Karel Reisz who attempted to adapt, develop and find a filmic approach for the big screen from John Fowles' complex source novel. These directors included Mike Nichols, Milos Forman, Robert Bolt, Sidney Lumet, Richard Lester, Fred Zinnemann, Lindsay Anderson, Franklin J. Schaffner and Mihalis Kakogiannis (aka Michael Cacoyannis). None of these directors were able to come up with a workable screenplay nor a workable perspective for a picture.
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About ¼ or 25% of the film is set in modern contemporary times and around ¾ or 75% of the picture is devoted to the 1800s Victorian period.
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The secret place where Anna (Meryl Streep) and Charles (Jeremy Irons) met regularly was at "The Undercliff" - i.e. the Lyme Regis Undercliff, a wild steeply-sloped coastal woodlands which stretches for a distance of six miles (= 9.5 kilometers) out of Lyme.
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Gemma Jones, Helen Mirren and Francesca Annis were considered for the lead female roles of Anna and Sarah Woodruff which in the end were cast with Meryl Streep. Mirren was source novelist John Fowles choice for the lead female role.
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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.
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The picture was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1982 but failed to take home an Oscar in any of its nominated categories.
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According to website 'Wikipedia', the picture's "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 [John] Fowles to suggest a television adaptation, to which Fowles was amenable, but producer Saul Zaentz finally arranged for the film version to go ahead".
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In 2006, the film's source novel was adapted by Mark Healy as a stage play production and toured the UK.
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The now famous wave, wind and storm swept cobble-stoned breakwater harbor wall locale that features in the film, as well as on many movie posters, DVD and home video covers for the picture, where Sarah Woodruff (Meryl Streep) stands in danger gazing out to the sea, is located in Lyme Regis in the English country of Dorset. Known as "The Cobb", the structure also features in the Jane Austen novel "Persuasion" (1818), as well as both this movie and John Fowles' source "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) novel.
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Director Karel Reisz and writer Harold Pinter wrote and developed the film's screenplay throughout the year of 1979.
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One of a number of period cinema films that actor Jeremy Irons starred in during his early career. The pictures include Nijinsky (1980), The Mission (1986), The Wild Duck (1984), Swann in Love (1984) ("Swann in Love") and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981).
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Debut cinema movie of English television actress Lynsey Baxter.
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Actor Jeremy Irons was simultaneously playing a starring role in the television series Brideshead Revisited (1981) while filming The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981).
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The film's source book "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) by John Fowles has been literary genre categorized as being "a post-modern historical fiction novel".
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Star Jeremy Irons was cast in the picture after director Karel Reisz spotted Irons in a British television play.
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First Academy Award nomination for the Oscar category of Best Actress for Meryl Streep who did not win but would the following year for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Sophie's Choice (1982). Streep had previously been Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actress for both The Deer Hunter (1978) and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) winning the gong for the latter. Since The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Streep has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role / Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role fourteen times giving Streep in total fifteen Best Actress Oscar nominations [to date, February 2015].
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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.
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Actress Meryl Streep had daily lessons with a voice-coach to develop an English accent and arrived in England three months prior to the start of principal photography for this Victorian vocal training.
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The nick-names of Sarah Woodruff (Meryl Streep) were "The French Lieutenant's Woman" and "The French Lieutenant's Whore".
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Actress Lynsey Baxter was cast as Ernestina after director Karel Reisz spotted her in a stage play appearing with Vanessa Redgrave.
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Two treatments for the film were written prior to Harold Pinter's final draft for his adaptation of John Fowles' "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) novel. These draft treatments included one in 1975 by Dennis Potter and one in 1976 by James Costigan.
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The movie has two stars that have both won best acting Academy Awards - Jeremy Irons for Reversal of Fortune (1990) and Meryl Streep for Sophie's Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011), the latter also winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).
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Director John Frankenheimer once said of adapting John Fowles' "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) novel: "There is no way you can film the book. You can tell the same story in a movie, of course, but not in the same way. And how Fowles tells his story is what makes the book so good".
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The music score composed by Carl Davis heard in the film is performed by performed viola soloist Kenneth Essex and an orchestra who were unidentifiable in the film's credits and billing.
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The French novel "Ourika" (1823) inspired this film's John Fowles source novel "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969).
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The music score composed by Carl Davis heard in the film is performed by viola soloist Kenneth Essex and an orchestra who were unidentifiable in the film's credits and billing.
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"The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) was the third published novel of author John Fowles after "The Collector" (1963) and "The Magus" (1965). Both of these earlier works had previously been filmed prior to the publishing of "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) [See: The Collector (1965) and The Magus (1968)]. As "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) was a best-seller, it instantly became a hot property for a filmed version during that mid-to-late 1960s era that these other two Fowles films had been made, as well during this period there being a cycle of D.H. Lawrence filmed adaptations, but all attempts around this time, and after for around a decade, failed to get "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) novel off-the ground as a movie.
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Robert Redford and Richard Chamberlain were considered for the roles of Mike and Charles Henry Smithson which in the end were cast with Jeremy Irons. Redford would go on to star with Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (1985).
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The WH Smith Literary Award of 1970 was won by this film's source novel "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) by John Fowles.
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Publicity for this picture stated that the movie's source "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) novel by John Fowles was a best-seller and had sold more than four million copies and had been published in eighteen different languages.
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About a decade prior to this film being developed, made and released, the movie's director Karel Reisz turned-down source novelist John Fowles offer to make a filmed version of his novel. Reisz stated that he had just finished making Isadora (1968) and was not currently interested in making another period film at that point in time. In 1979, Fowles again approached Reisz and this time agreed though he did recognize the issues, problems and obstacles faced by other filmmakers in the interim in trying to bring the complex novel to the screen that had preceded his attachment to the project.
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US library magazine 'American Libraries' described the film's source John Fowles "The French Lieutenant's Woman" novel as one of the "Notable Books of 1969".
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A number of directors were attached to the production prior to Karel Reisz who attempted to adapt, develop and find a filmic approach for the big screen for John Fowles' complex source novel. These directors included Mike Nichols, Milos Forman, Robert Bolt, Sidney Lumet, Richard Lester, Fred Zinnemann, Lindsay Anderson, Franklin J. Schaffner, John Frankenheimer and Mihalis Kakogiannis (aka Michael Cacoyannis). None of these directors were able to come up with a workable screenplay nor a workable perspective for a picture.
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The film's director Karel Reisz once said of this film: "I admired the novel tremendously from my first reading, but I didn't see how to turn it into a drama. The book has two exceptional qualities as a source for a movie. First, quite simply, it has a wonderful story that centers on the extraordinary character of Sarah Woodruff, a turbulent, passionate spirit who is, so to speak, born into the wrong age. She has some of the visions we associate with the 20th Century, but she was born penniless into the 19th Century. Secondly, the novel is a kind of a game. It tells a Victorian story, but does so from the vantage point of today. Fowles continually invites us to view events with our modern knowledge. He plays with the idea that he is only writing a fiction, and shares some of his problems with us".
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In the two filmed productions first released in 1981 that Jeremy Irons starred in, this cinema movie and the TV series Brideshead Revisited (1981), Irons both played characters who were first-named "Charles", Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited (1981) and Charles Henry Smithson in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981).
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John Fowles, the film's source author, has said that he had mentally cast Meryl Streep in the role of Sarah years before The Deer Hunter (1978) and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). Reisz had seen Streep play Kate in William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" in Central Park, New York. Resiz said: "She was so audacious, so free. She has a range of temperament that is very rare, and a very special sort of daring".
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Source novelist John Fowles once said of the casting of Meryl Streep in the lead female roles: "I thoroughly approved. I had often thought of Sarah as American in her independence and freedom from convention".
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When this film's source novel "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) was first originally in development during the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a cycle of cinema film adaptations of D.H. Lawrence novels, which included The Fox (1967), Women in Love (1969) and The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970). As the picture took around a decade to get made and released, when it eventually was, it was launched in the same 1981 year as three D.H. Lawrence filmed adaptations: The Trespasser (1981), Masterpiece Theatre: Sons and Lovers (1981) and Lady Chatterley's Lover (1981), the latter being a cinema film as well.
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Actress Meryl Streep once said of this film: "I promised John Fowles that I would not try to explain Sarah. It's not my baby, it's his, and I am merely an interpretive actress. If the picture triggers a controversy over what Sarah is really like, is she the prototype of a new woman, a liar, a psychopath, a whore, that's good. She's all that and more".
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Source novelist John Fowles had not been happy with the filmed versions of his two earlier novels "The Collector" (1963) and "The Magus" (1965) [See: The Collector (1965) and The Magus (1968)]. Both of these earlier works had previously been filmed prior to the publishing of Fowles' third novel "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969). So Fowles insisted on selecting the director of The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981) and his first choice, Karel Reisz, became the movie's director.
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The romance between Sarah Woodruff (Meryl Streep) and Charles Henry Smithson (Jeremy Irons) in this film and it source John Fowles 1969 novel of the same name has often been compared with that between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw in Emily Brontë's novel "Wuthering Heights" (1847) and its filmed versions.
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Part of the English township of Lyme Regis in the county of Dorset in England was de-modernized for the principal photography production of this picture so as to resemble 1860s Victorian England.
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In "Harold Pinter's The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981): A Masterpiece of Adaptation" from the book "The Films of Harold Pinter" (2001), author Steven H. Gale states that "Acton's Report" which is mentioned in the film by Meryl Streep, when she says in the journal "The Lancet" that there were estimated in 1857 to be 80,000 working prostitutes in the County of London and that one house in sixty functioned as a brothel, references the work "Prostitution, Considered in Its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects" (1857) by William Acton.
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'Rating the Movies' says of this film: "The [source 'John Fowles'] novel uses asides to make its comments on society; the film uses a story-within-a-story structure, about a filmmaking company whose players duplicate their onscreen involvements when they're off the screen".
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The film features such classical music pieces as "Adagio" from Sonata in D, K 576 by Mozart (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) played by John Lill and Prelude in C Minor by Bach (Johann Sebastian Bach).
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The name of the book that Dr. Grogan (Leo McKern) was reading was "The Origin of the Species" (1859) by Charles Darwin. The work is also known as "On the Origin of Species" or by its long title "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life".
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Star Meryl Streep sports one hair color in this picture; auburn for her modern era character of Anna and auburn for her Victorian character of Sarah Woodruff.
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Spoilers 

The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

The source original novel "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969) does not feature the subplot of the actors playing the parts in a modern day film. The novel did, however, feature three alternate ending endings, from which readers could choose their favorite. SPOILER: Creating two parallel story lines allowed the filmmakers to include two of those endings, one happy and one tragic.
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See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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