French Lieutenant’s Woman – Social Rules Past & Present
Back when I was in high school (a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) I had a really great English teacher who had the poster for this movie mounted on her wall. I had a great deal of respect for her not only because of her teaching methods, but simply because she seemed to know so much about literature and the secret meanings hidden inside the books we had to read. I wanted to watch it simply because she admired it. It wasn’t a movie I would have normally chosen to see in the theater, but I might have been willing to rent it had my family had a VCR back then (I told you it was a really long time ago).
Time passed and I mostly forgot about this movie and the story behind Meryl’s haunted look on the poster. I’m sure it’s been on cable somewhat regularly since then, but I pursued other things instead of this particular tale. Tracking it down has been a little challenging since Netflix doesn’t have a copy to rent so I had to stalk the free cable channels until it came on.
The movie is based on a book which was written in 1969 by John Fowles and that the intent was to illustrate the differences between the social rules dictating behavior between men and women in the past versus the standards of modern day interactions. I understand that the story was groundbreaking at the time in showing the differences in society and how many more social constraints were in place during the horse & buggy era. I have not read the book to compare it to the movie – I started it, but for whatever reason, put it down.
The movie was very dramatically shot. Meryl Streep & Jeremy Irons glowed in their respective “past” parts and were sort of ordinary in their “modern” roles. Much was done to delineate the two time periods and make clear the many changes in societal rules have occurred. The actions of Meryl’s “past” character were a bit confusing to me when I first watched the movie, but after some consideration of her character’s motives I sort of understand her peculiar behavior and seeming confusion about what she wanted.
Young people disappointed in love can and do behave strangely and may not even know themselves what will make them happy. I think that really is the key to understanding Miss Woodruff. Iron’s character on the other hand simply didn’t realize what he wanted until his ideal lover was just beyond his reach. The poor guy gets strung along and dragged through the mud for his troubles but eventually he gets the girl. His modern persona does not fare so well simply because he lets his heart get caught up in a temporary affair which ends at the end of the shoot.
Streep, of course was breathtaking and dramatic in her portrayal of Sarah. I can understand how someone might like the movie simply because of her portrayal of the tragic, lovelorn young woman.
Too bad I can’t magically project myself back to Dr. Kirkpatrick’s class so that I could ask her to share all the hidden nuances that I missed about the movie or her opinion about what she found notable about it. You can try to catch this movie on cable or get a copy from Amazon.com. Given that this movie is based on an important piece of literature, it’s worth two hours out of your life to explore it.