French Lieutenant's Woman [1981]

Writer Harold Pinter (Betrayal) and director Karel Reisz (Isadora) take an experimental spin with John Fowles's magnificent novel set in Victorian England, and come up with something puzzling. Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep play the forbidden lovers in Fowles's story, but in a parallel story line they also play contemporary actors performing those characters in a movie production and having an affair of their own during off-hours. Got that? Considering that Fowles himself presents alternative endings in his novel, something equally eccentric is called for here. But little is accomplished by this intertwining of a fictional past and present, and the opportunity to do justice to a great story is lost. On the plus side, Irons and Streep are instantly striking as a natural couple on screen, and their presence makes watching this film easy enough despite the larger problems. --Tom Keogh

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