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H D - S E N S E I

A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The French Lieutenant's Woman [Blu-ray]


(Karel Reisz, 1981)


Coming to Blu-ray in the UK by Criterion in March 2020:


Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Juniper Films / United Artists

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #768



Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:03:49.422

Disc Size: 47,559,489,687 bytes

Feature Size: 29,042,184,192 bytes

Video Bitrate: 27.50 Mbps

Chapters: 15

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: August 11th, 2015



Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit



English (SDH), none



• New interviews with actors Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, editor John Bloom (30:54), and composer Carl Davis (21:13)
New interview with film scholar Ian Christie (20:20)
Episode of The South Bank Show from 1981 featuring director Karel Reisz, novelist John Fowles, and screenwriter Harold Pinter (51:32)
Trailer (2:00)
PLUS: An essay by film scholar Lucy Bolton






Description: An astounding array of talent came together for the big-screen adaptation of John Fowles’s novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman, a postmodern masterpiece that had been considered unfilmable. With an ingenious script by the Nobel Prize–winning playwright Harold Pinter, British New Wave trailblazer Karel Reisz transforms Fowles’s tale of scandalous romance into an arresting, hugely entertaining movie about cinema. In Pinter’s reimagining, Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep star in parallel narratives, as a Victorian-era gentleman and the social outcast he risks everything to love, and as the contemporary actors playing those roles in a film production, and immersed in their own forbidden affair. Shot by the consummate cinematographer Freddie Francis and scored by the venerated composer and conductor Carl Davis, this is a beguiling, intellectually nimble feat of filmmaking, starring a pair of legendary actors in early leading roles.



The Film:

John Fowles' original novel The French Lieutenant's Woman was distinguished by a literary technique that involved telling a story of Victorian sexual and social oppression within the bounds of a 1970s viewpoint. How does one convey this time-frame dichotomy on film? The decision made by director Karel Reisz and Harold Pinter was to frame Fowles' basic plot within a "modern" context of their own making. While we watch as Sarah (Meryl Streep), a 19th-century Englishwoman ruined by an affair with a French lieutenant, enters into another disastrous relationship with principled young Charles (Jeremy Irons), we are constantly made aware that what we're seeing is only a film. This is done by surrounding the story with a modern narrative, focusing on a movie production company which is on location--filming The French Lieutenant's Woman. Meryl Streep doubles in the role of Sara and the American actress who plays her, while Jeremy Irons essays the dual role of Charles and the handsome Briton playing Charles. Likewise, everyone else in the cast is seen as "themselves" and as their French Lieutenant's Woman characters. Not surprisingly, the "real" Streep and Irons enter into an affair which closely parallels their characters' relationship.

Excerpt from MRQE located HERE

John Fowles' novel is a full-blooded 19th century romance, but written in 1969 and addressed to the intellectual vanity of the modern reader by means of confidential asides, footnotes which titillate while purporting to add documentary authority (all that absurdly solemn stuff about sausage skins and condoms), and frequent recourse to passwords like Darwin, Marx and (just once) Freud. As a result it places that easy target - repressed Victorian sexuality - well within our drooling sights. Harold Pinter's screenplay gives flesh to this 20th century perspective with a parallel story: not only do Streep and Irons play the 19th century lovers, they are also cast as a pair of adulterous sophisticates, swotting up on Victorian social history between takes during filming of The French Lieutenant's Woman. As a solution to the almost impossible problem of adapting the book, this film-within-a-film idea is an honourable failure, providing a modest, nearly redundant framework since the Victorian sequences stand on their own merits, with performances (the pre-Raphaelite Streep is outstanding), exquisite photography (Freddie Francis) and Reisz's direction combining to deliver a powerful and persuasive anatomy of passion.

Excerpt from TimeOut located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman looks very appealing on Blu-ray from Criterion.  The 2K transfer exports bright, rich, colors and consistent film textures.  This is dual-layered with a supportive bitrate and we can guess that it is a solid representation of the film. Contrast is at Criterion's usual high standards. It is in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the film's impressive art direction shines through beautifully in 1080P. They are frequent examples of depth. This Blu-ray has no discernable flaws and supplies a brilliant HD presentation.
























Audio :

Criterion use a linear PCM 1.0 channel mono track at 1152 kbps sounding authentic, flat and crisp in the Carl Davis score augmented by Mozart's Adagio from Sonata in D, and Bach's Prelude in C minor. The film itself has few aggressive effects but the music carries depth. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'A' disc.


Extras :

Criterion include some new supplements; we get 20-minutes with with film scholar Ian Christie appraising the cinematic and literary achievements of The French Lieutenant's Woman. There is a 1/2 hour documentary, produced by Criterion in 2015, containing interviews with actors Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, and editor John Bloom discussing director Karel Reisz and their experiences working on The French Lieutenant's Woman. Also new is 20-minutes with composer Carl Davis talking about his score for the film in a 2015 interview at Davis' home in England. Lastly, on the digital front is a 50-minute episode of The South Bank Show from 1981 featuring director Reisz, novelist John Fowles, and screenwriter Harold Pinter examining the screen adaptation of Fowles' 1969 novel. There is a trailer plus the package contains a liner notes booklet with an essay by film scholar Lucy Bolton.



The French Lieutenant's Woman is such impressive cinema - Karel Reisz's deft filmic approach to the source novel with 25% of the film is set in modern contemporary times and 75% in the 1800s Victorian timeframe, the brilliant dual-role performances of Irons (Mike and Charles Henry Smithson) and Streep (Anna and Sarah Woodruff), the film's warm, period-embracing, score and precise art direction and costume design. It comes together as a deep, towering, love story with an epically emotional feel. The Criterion Blu-ray transfer has strong a/v and the package has many interesting extras. Very strongly recommended! 

Gary Tooze

July 21st, 2015


Coming to Blu-ray in the UK by Criterion in March 2020:

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze






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