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Saturday May 18th 2024

The French Lieutenant's Woman | 1982

The French Lieutenant's Woman film location: The Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset
The French Lieutenant's Woman film location: The Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset

A box office smash but a not too successful filming of John Fowles’ novel, as Harold Pinter’s Oscar winning screenplay ingeniously replaces the literary commentary with a present day parallel relationship.

But the abiding image is of the mysterious Sarah (Meryl Streep, or rather, a stunt double) in a big cloak standing on the Cobb in Lyme Regis, Dorset. The Cobb is a curving breakwater built in the 13th century by Edward I to improve the harbour.

The unique geology of the beautiful coast around Lyme Regis, a West Country seaside resort and fishing port, has earned World Heritage Site status. It’s known as the Jurassic Coast for the abundance of fossils found here.

Filming on location around Lyme Regis included the abandoned railway station, which actually closed in 1965; the Undercliff, the coastal area between Lyme Regis and Axmouth; and Broad Street, including the Royal Lion Hotel, and Mr Chapman’s Bookshop, which has been left as dressed for the movie after shooting finished.

The ‘Exeter’ scenes were actually filmed at Kingswear, over the River Dart from Dartmouth, in Devon. The bar and the bedroom scenes of the ‘Endicott’s Family Hotel’ were shot at the Steam Packet Inn, Fore Street, while the Royal Dart Hotel, The Square was repainted in brown and cream to suit the 1867 setting.

‘Exeter St David’s Station’ was Windsor Central Station, Berkshire, which has been radically modernised since filming.

Smitten Victorian gent Charles (Jeremy Irons) searches for Sarah among the whores in Green Dragon Court, the dark, pillared space used as a carpark behind the Globe pub (where Bridget Jones lives in the movie of Bridget Jones's Diary) in Borough, and also featured in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus, before a recent redevelopment.

The French Lieutenant's Woman film location: Shad Thames, London
The French Lieutenant's Woman film location: Victorian London: Shad Thames, London

On the south bank of the Thames, just east of Tower Bridge, you'll find the streets of Shad Thames, now so squeaky clean, once time-blackened warehouses, the air heavy with the smell of spices impregnated in the very brickwork. You can still detect the faintest trace of cumin or pepper. These high, narrow passageways overwhelmed by the bulk of the vast warehouses linked by overhead walkways, were used for the streets of Victorian London.

The dock office is an elaborate set built on the Thames waterfront at Shad Thames – virtually all that is seen of the real location are the warehouses opposite. The old Shad Thames can be seen in The Elephant Man, when Dr Treves (Anthony Hopkins) goes to look for John Merrick (John Hurt), and as a ‘New York’ alleyway in Highlander. The new, gentrified Shad Thames can be seen in Bridget Jones’s Diary, when Bridget (Renee Zellweger) and Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) share their first kiss, and is used for the police chase in Cruella.

The French Lieutenant's Woman film location: 2 St James's Gardens, Holland Park
The French Lieutenant's Woman film location: 'Jeremy Irons' London house: 2 St James's Gardens, Holland Park

Charles’ London house is 2 St James’s Gardens, opposite St James Norlands Church, Holland Park, west London (which, at the time of filming was home to TV presenter Robin Day).

The French Lieutenant's Woman film location: The Savoy, 1 Savoy Hill, The Strand, London
The French Lieutenant's Woman film location: Anna and Mike stay at the London hotel: The Savoy, The Strand, London

For the modern scenes, movie actress Anna (Meryl Streep, again) stays at the Savoy Hotel, 1 Savoy Hill, on the Strand. The gleaming entrance court to the hotel, on the south side of the Strand, is straight out of an RKO musical. Even down to the fact that traffic drives on the right (this is allowed nowhere else in Britain). The hotel, an adjunct to the Savoy Theatre (built to stage the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan), was given its sleek deco makeover in 1929.

Master thief Mac MacDougal (Sean Connery) stays at the Savoy in Entrapment and, of course, it's from outside the hotel that Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) gets abducted at the end of The Long Good Friday.