Friday, March 27, 2009
Book vs. Film: The French Lieutenant's Woman vs. The French Lieutant's Woman
Plot: The French Lieutenant's Woman, both in book and film form, is a story about telling a story. The story being told takes place during the Victorian era and centres on a Sarah, a woman with a bad reputation. She's known as "the French Lieutenant's whore" because of a rumored affair she had with a sailor who abandoned her, and now she's a pariah in the community. Charles Smithson becomes fascinated with her, threatening his future with his financee, the daughter of a wealthy tradesman.
Primary Differences Between Book and Film: To put it simply, the book is about writing a book, the film is about making a film based on the book. Although much of the book unfolds unimpeded by authorial asides, John Fowles does break in every once in a while to remind the reader that he's telling a story and remark on the actions of his characters, particularly the growing idiocy of Charles. In the film, some of the action takes place in front of the cameras as part of the film-within-the-film, but some of it takes place behind the scenes as the actors playing Sarah and Charles find their own lives mirroring that of their characters.
For The Book: I'm a bit biased because the book is one of my absolute favourites. Fowles does somethig tricky in that he lulls you into immersing yourself in the story of Sarah and Charles and then yanks you out of it without making the transition seem jarring. The novel is a brilliant example of post-modern style and often disarmingly funny.
For The Film: By adapting it as an "onstage/offstage" story, the film captures the spirit of the book better than a straight adaptation ever could. Aside from being the story of Sarah and Charles' doomed love, The French Lieutenant's Woman is also about actively analyzing at the mores and attitudes of a bygone era, which the film does in its offstage portions. There are also great performances by Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, though Streep stands out more by virtue of the fact that both of her characters (the actress and Sarah) are written to be stronger presences than those portrayed by Irons.
Winner: I like the movie, but I love the book. The film is, however, one of the best page to screen adaptations I've ever seen, even if it starts to lag a little by the end. So, obviously, the winner is the book but it's a pretty tight race.