7 & 6. Meryl Streep & Jeremy Irons in The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Yes, I am including a joint/double entry. So sue me, or fill the comment section with unkind words. But in a story as interlocked and codependent as The French Lieutenant’s Woman, it seems quite fitting. And yes, I recognize that these are very arguable choices within both actors’ filmographies. What about Sophie’s Choice or Reversal of Fortune, you ask? Well, those are among the greatest, and most obvious, so I went with the film and performances that left an indelible imprint on me as a film writer and person. (Translation: Phooey on you.)
The film consists of two plotlines; one concerning Sarah and Charles (a Victorian fallen woman and a lovelorn archeologist), the other follows Anna and Mike (the actors who play them). In their dual roles, Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons capture the subtleties of love and performance and performance of love. We see two romances unraveling before our eyes — one to consummation and the other to dissolution. Both can be as power struggles centered around the same heart of human emotion: the fear of unfulfilled love. Each party involved is unfaithful, to a spouse, significant other or haunted memory across the sea, yet we find ourselves empathizing, with the pain of making poor choices too soon and/or ever trailing behind one’s heart’s desires.
As actors, both Streep and Irons have a tendency to flirt with nearly pope-faced performances and to border onto over-earning their audience’s favor, but in this film, their earnest-sounding voices and soul-searching looks add flourish to their characters’ desperations for love, for sanity, for freedom. From Charles’s first glance down the wave-ridden pier at a grave-faced Anna to Sarah and Mike discussing the logistics (and gender political implications) of the next day’s scene, they are seeking. This is their driving force through whichever reality, and as a credit to Streep and Irons’s performances, we trudge behind them, releasing an occasional sob, along the way.