The French Lieutenant's Woman is a 1981 film of historical fiction, contrasting present day relationships, morality and industry with that of the Victorian era in the 1850s. It is an adaptation of a novel by John Fowles, the script was written by Harold Pinter.
The setting is in England, Lyme and London specifically, where Charles, a Darwinian scientist is courting the daughter of a wealthy businessman. The film depicts Charles as somewhat of the laughingstock with the rich citizens of Lyme who regard his profession as folly. His future father-in-law offers him a position in his shipping company which is expanding to "Liverpool and Bristol." The scenery in this portion of the film depicts frantic building going on in the background fitting with the period of the Industrial revolution.
The film within a film concept has two actors playing the characters in the film "The French Lieutenant's Woman" but also follows the actors' relationship with each other. This presents a contrast between the present day (1981) with the Victorian era. In her research on the Victorian era in the film, the actress Anna states that in 1857 there were over 50,000 prostitutes in London.
Sarah Woodruff, the French Lieutenant's woman, is seen as a morally deficient woman, likened to a prostitute, and goes to work for a rich and "pious" woman. This woman, Mrs. Palfrey (I think) describes Sarah's actions of walking in the under cliffs and staring out at sea to be "sinful." She states there is a vast difference between those people from the country and those from London and says there "are gross disorders in the streets."
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...streets, leisure and brute work, families and orphans" (96).
This film did an excellent job of contrasting the idle rich in the country and the upper class in London. There was a snobbery that was emphasized, using the servants versus their masters. The condemnation of Sarah Woodruff as a "fallen woman" was contrasted by the facts that later came out. The stark contrasts in England during the Industrial revolution were evident in this film and I felt it was an interesting piece of historical fiction.
Bradbury, Malcolm, ed. The Atlas of Literature. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1998.
Damrosch, David, ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. New York: Longman, 2000.
The French Lieutenant's Woman. Dir. Karel Reisz. Perf. Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. United Artists, 1981.
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