The French Lieutenant’s Woman 1981 Based on the novel by John Fowles, screenplay by Harold Pinter, directed by Karel Reisz. The curious juxtaposition of a passionate Victorian love story and that of otherwise married lovers who are acting a film of the story. Meryl Streep (Best Actress Academy Award) plays both actress Anna and film heroine Sarah Woodruff, known disdainfully as “the French lieutenant’s woman.” Jeremy Irons plays both actor Mike and gentleman paleontologist Charles Smithson.
Smithson is magnetically drawn to the disgraced Sarah, abandoning his engagement and secure future in order to bed, protect, then search for his disappeared love. Mike presses Anna to continue their affair after the film wraps. Beautifully made with a marvelous British ensemble and evocative cinematography. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Damage 1992 Adapted from the novel by Josephine Hart. Directed by Louis Malle. British politician (and MD) Dr. Stephen Fleming (Jeremy Irons) meets attractive, young Southeby’s employee Anna Barton (Juliet Binoche) at a reception. She introduces herself as a friend of his son Martyn (Rupert Graves). The two are powerfully attracted. When Martyn brings his girlfriend home and it turns out to be Anna, she and Stephen are un-comfortable, but determined. They begin a torrid, risky affair. He’s obsessed, she’s oddly calm.
Stephen’s wife Ingrid (Miranda Richardson) grows suspicious. Much to his shock, Anna agrees to marry Martyn. She assures Stephen he’ll always have access. Her emotionally wrought past and their convoluted present lead to life-wrecking exposure. Also with Leslie Caron as Anna’s mother, Ian Bannon as Ingrid’s father, Peter Stormare as Anna’s ostensibly ex-lover, and Julian Fellowes (yes, the writer of Downton Abbey) as an MP. Rent on Amazon Prime.
M. Butterfly 1993 Adapted from the play by David Henry Hwang who also wrote the screenplay. Loosely based on a true story: French diplomat Bernard Boursicot fell in love with Chinese opera singer and spy Shi Pei Pu, who lived his life offstage (as well as on) as a woman. Their affair lasted 20 years with Bouriscot unaware (or willfully ignorant) of Pu’s sex even-tually provoking an espionage scandal. A fascinating relationship if you can believe Bouriscot’s ignorance. Stereotypes are skillfully skewered. Jeremy Irons plays René Gallimard (Bouriscot), John Lone plays the opera star. Directed by David Cronenberg. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Merchant of Venice 2004 The first full-length sound film in English of Shakespeare’s play. On glorious location. Directed by Michael Radford. Profligate Noble Bassiano (Joseph Fiennes) complains to friends that he needs money to court beautiful, wealthy Portia (Lynn Collins). Antonio (Jeremy Irons), who often bails him out, decides marriage is sufficiently important to do so one more time. As he’s is currently cash poor waiting for some ships to arrive, the family friend agrees to be guarantor for a loan from Jewish moneylender Shylock (Al Pacino – excellent).
Shylock’s condition is that if he’s not repaid, he gets a pound of flesh. The Jews are abused in Venice. Antonio is Anti-Semitic. Shylock is bitter. Bassiano boats to the island where Portia’s suitors must choose correctly from one of three caskets, made of gold, silver, and lead. With a little help, he wins Portia’s hand and marries, but Antonio is forced to forfeit. The claim goes to court. Disguised as a lawyer, Portia saves the day. A grand production. Vivid, entertaining, clear. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Man Who Knew Infinity 2015 Biographical drama about the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan based on the book by Robert Kanigel. Directed by Matt Brown. In Madras, India, Ramanujan (Dev Patel) gets by doing menial jobs. Due to natural mathematical talent, he’s also given occasional accounting assignments. His employers encourage him to reach out with developing theories. One of his inquiries goes to Godfrey Harold Hardy (Jeremy Irons) at The University of Cambridge. Hardy is impressed and curious. He invites Ramanujan to to England.
The Indian man suffers from homesickness, British prejudice, lack of finances, and weather. He’s discovered to have tuberculosis. Hardy is aware of none of this. He teaches the young mathematician how to write a proof, gets an important theory published, and nominates Ramanujan for several fellowships. Success doesn’t arrive in time. Acting carries this story above formulaic structure. An obscure, well told tale. Featuring Stephen Fry, Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam, Devika Bhise. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Correspondence 2016 Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. An extravagant love story. Astrophysics professor Ed (Jeremy Irons) and Amy Ryan (Olga Kurylenko), PhD student and part-time movie stunt woman, met at a conference six years ago and recognized each other as soulmates. He lives in Edinburgh with a wife and family to whom we oddly don’t give a second thought. She appears to be in London where he regularly travels. There’s no talk of Ed’s leaving his wife, something Amy seems to accept with equanimity.
This is partially due to Ed’s never being out of touch. Video chat, e-mails, phone calls and packages timed to arrive with extraordinary precision, containing things of sensitivity and aptness, keep her from feeling alone. When he doesn’t show up at the current conference, she learns from the audience that Ed has died. Still, texts, videos, envelopes and packages keep arriving. Amy visits the Italian island where Ed owns a home to which they’d travel every year. The fire is lit. Missives and CDs keep arriving aided and abetted by his intimates there as they do in London through messenger services, florists and his lawyer.
Each “correspondence” supports and encourages her independent path reiterating love. He has, in fact unearthed a painful secret, helping to face some things. Deeply mourning, Amy goes on a quest to discover everything she can about his death…and how he manages to keep communicating. There are lots of tears, but also self-discovery and change. The concept of string theory and simultaneous lives winds through poetically. (Only as concept.) Rent on Amazon Prime.