Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)

Meryl Streep received her third Oscar nomination for playing Sarah/Anna in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman is an okay film that I found watchable, but not too engaging. The story is a film within a film, focusing on Sarah, the “scarlet woman of Lyme”, and Anna, the actress who plays Sarah. I’m not sure whether such a structure actually worked for me as I didn’t really see the point of Anna’s storyline, but like I said, I found the film fine for the most part. Jeremy Irons (in his first leading role) gives a great performance as Charles, the man who falls for Sarah’s “trap”, and Mike, the actor playing Charles. I think he deserved a nomination at least.

This performance wasn’t on my to-review list but my curiosity was aroused when I was reviewing Kate Hepburn’s performance in On Golden Pond. As it turns out, Streep won the golden globe and bafta for this performance, which made me wonder how close she actually came to winning the Oscar. Of course, she would go ahead to win one of the most deserving Oscars one year later, but her work her was like a “sneak peek” into the Meryl Streep we are all familiar with – accent, tears, etc. What especially worked was the mysterious edge that Streep gives this woman – the scene where she is standing by the seas is pure brilliance, and the haunted expression on her face is amazing. Her presence is poetic and melancholic at the same time, and she is like a ghost waiting for a lover whom she knows will never return.

Out of Streep’s nominations, this one is often the least talked about. Personally, I can understand why – my main issue with this performance is how it seems more of a display of Meryl’s technical skills as an actress than anything. The accent is there, the emotions are spot-on, the tears are on full display, but I never really connected with the performance as much as I would have liked. We are supposed to buy that Sarah is this woman who has no control over her emotions, who is filled with bitterness, envy and is essentially labelled as the “town slut”. Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel that overwhelming, turbulent passion within the character that I feel should have been there. I can only imagine how Isabelle Adjani would have nailed this part. Streep’s performance is actually very restrained, which worked in giving the character the mysterious edge, but I didn’t really buy her ability in “ensnaring” Charles as some people say. The affair between her and Irons worked mainly because of him, imo – he sells his character’s weakness and inability to resist temptation brilliantly. Still, I appreciated that Streep didn’t portray Sarah as some manipulative, evil slut who goes all out to wreck marriages, but as a sympathetic and lonely character who has no outlet to channel her inner desire for passion.

The character of Anna is a bit pointless for me, although I actually have nothing to fault with Streep’s acting. Like I said, I feel like this performance is more of a display of Streep’s acting skills, and she succeeds. There’s no doubt that she’s two different characters (even though one’s playing another), and she even adapts her mannerisms according to the time period of her characters. It’s not a bad performance – in fact, I think it’s a very good one by a fantastic actress in her early days. 4/5.

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One comment

  1. Oh dear. This one requires another rewatch from me as well. Saw it years ago when I was starting out blogging and I actually fell asleep halfway through, if that’s any indication of my feelings on the performance…

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