Cinema: When Acting Becomes Alchemy

THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN

Directed by Karel Reisz; Screenplay by Harold Pinter

On that blustery March day in 1867, when Sarah Woodruff stood on the Lyme Regis jetty and turned slowly to stare at the young gentleman rushing to her aid, she burned her gaze into popular literary history. Sarah may have been jilted by her fickle French lieutenant, but she seized the imaginations and won the hearts of the novel-reading public.

Since its publication in 1969, John Fowles' multileveled romance has sold about 4 million copies and been translated into 18 languages. It is...