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MGM Studios DVD presents
The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

"I knew it was ordained I should not marry an equal, so I married shame."
- Anna as Sarah Woodruff (Meryl Streep)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 04, 2001

Stars: Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons
Other Stars: Leo McKern, Hilton McRae, Emily Morgan, Charlotte Mitchell, Lynnsey Baxter, Jean Faulds, Peter Vaughan, Patience Collier
Director: Karel Reisz

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (sexual situations, language)
Run Time: 02h:03m:35s
Release Date: September 04, 2001
UPC: 027616866653
Genre: romance

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-B+ D

DVD Review

In the early 1980s, there was no film actress quite so well regarded as Meryl Streep. She had immediately made an enormous impression with her small parts in The Deer Hunter and Manhattan. In between Best Actress Oscars® for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie's Choice, she helped cement her reputation with the double role in this picture.

Based on the novel by John Fowles (master of the impenetrable tome), the much simplified film version centers on the making of a motion picture set in Victorian times, starring Anna (Streep) and Mike (Jeremy Irons). Anna and Mike respectively play Sarah Woodruff and Charles Smithson in the film within the film. Smithson, engaged to Ernestina Freeman (Lynsey Baxter), finds himself under the spell of Woodruff, referred to variously as Tragedy and The French Lieutenant's..."Woman." At the same time, the story of the affair between Anna and Mike is interwoven with the fictional story to give it emphasis and to further solidify the notion of life imitating art.

The modern dress part of the story gets rather short shrift here, since so much running time must, necessarily, be devoted to the mystery of Sarah and her French Lieutenant, as well as the surprising turns that the fictional tale takes. The modern story thus can be little less than linear and on track, without any real narrative fat or character development to be allowed. The end product does come off well enough, however, because the modern vignettes are usually so carefully composed (noted playwright Howard Pinter did the screenplay) for maximum effect. Much is left to the imagination of the viewer, however, in both stories, as one is left to puzzle out the motives of Anna and Sarah without much in the way of clues.

Streep obviously has the easier time here, differentiating herself as an American actress playing a British character; it's thus fairly straightforward for her to create two different characters within a work. Irons has a much harder time of it, blurring the lines between Mike and the character Mike plays. The always reliable Leo McKern has a nice bit as the doctor from whom Smithson seeks advice. Patience Collier is gleefully nasty as the religious old woman who hires Sarah as a companion and uses every opportunity to humiliate Sarah for her sordid past. Few harridans in film are more terrifying.

The melding of the fictional story line and the events in the actors' lives is emphasized by use of the camera. In one notable instance, Anna and Mike are rehearsing a scene in which Anna falls. As she does, the film cuts immediately to them in costume and in character enacting the same scene. The meaning of this is less clear. Do the creators intend that we consider film as being identical for all practical purposes with reality?

The pain and disappointments of romance, as well as the questionable decisions that we make when under the influence of romance, come off beautifully here. The production design is opulent and quite lovely.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is decent, if not great. The opening sequence looks absolutely awful, with heavy grain, specks and dirt in abundance. However, once we leave the titles, the print used is practically immaculate. The balance of the film has excellent clarity and detail. Blacks are on the weak side, and several nighttime sequences are so low contrast as to be completely unreadable. Overall, however, a satisfactory enough job.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Again, the audio is a little hit and miss. Most of the time, the 2.0 mono sound is very good, with excellent breadth and range. The audio is surprisingly expansive for a mono track. Free of hiss and noise for the most part, there are a few quiet sequences that do have a good deal of both. Again, most of the film is perfectly satisfactory.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 56m:41s

Extras Review: Other than an anamorphic widescreen trailer in marginal condition, there's not much here. French and Spanish subtitles are included. Chaptering is the what seems to be standard MGM 16 chapters, which is a little thin for a movie exceeding the two-hour mark.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

An interesting and thought-provoking examination of romance in life imitating art, given a decent transfer. Worth a look, but don't be put off by the image quality of the opening sequence.


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