Omniscient Narration in The French Lieutenant's Woman
Second Oral Report, by Zach Tomaszewski
for ENG 760J, Fall 2005, taught by Dr. Glenn Man
The narration of the film matches that of the book in a number of ways.
3rd person narration
- No voice-over
- Opens on Anna, but from behind her hooded head. We only see her partly in the hand-mirror and around the hood. First line: "Ready, Anna?" from the director, establishing a 3rd person narrator/creator in control. After establishing movie-making frame, Anna assumes the role of Sarah through the credits.
- No one person is in all scenes. Instead, see multiple perspectives--Charles, Sarah, Sam, (Anna).
Charles as the filter/focus
- Charles is our primary focus. He is in all scenes, except: first scene of Sarah on the Cobb; the scenes in which Sarah hears of Mrs. Poulteney's "vacancy", interviews for the position, and is scolded by Mrs. Poulteney for walking in the Undercliff; the scene when Sarah reveals herself to Mrs. Fairley at the Dairy, followed by Sarah drawing herself in the mirror before her dismissal; and a few short scenes of Sam--chatting with Mary, opening a letter, or watching outside the Exeter hotel.
- The camera favors Charles. It tends to linger on him, or follow his motions more than any other character in a scene.
- We often see over Charles's shoulder or from his perspective. Noteworthy scenes: the tea conversation with Mrs. Poulteney, et al.; conversation with the doctor at the asylum.
- We are always aware of Charles's gaze: at Sarah on the Cobb, while she walks through forest, when he walks behind her in conversation, as they talk in the graveyard, as Sarah tells about the French Lieutenant, as he searches London.
- Charles is the only character with a shot-reverse-shot (?): (on the Cobb), watching Sarah from the Dairy, Charles looking out at the Cobb when deciding whether to go to the barn (includes a memory shot of Sarah on the Cobb), when he comes upon Sarah asleep in the barn, on going to talk to Ernestia on the lawn.
- We often see Charles's expression as he faces the camera in the foreground during conversations: when the Dr. tells him he must leave Lyme, when he tells his lawyer to pay Sarah yet wishes hear no more of her, while drinking punch with his friends, when Sam talks of going into business, when Ernestina responds to his breaking the engagement.
- When Charles looks into the distance, it is always to just one side of the camera, so we can clearly see his expression.
- Charles is favored in all his kisses: his is the face we see most clearly.
Sarah as largely inscrutable
- Though Sarah frequently looks off into the distance, she rarely looks near the camera. Instead, her face is at a more oblique angle. And she rarely holds a direction for long.
- She often avoids looking Charles (our filter) in the eye, especially during conversation. Exceptions include: on the Cobb, in the barn, in the Exeter hotel, and in the final scene.
- Sarah tends to have harder to read expressions in general.
Note. The modern day story does not occur in the novel, so it can't really be compared in terms of narration. However, it follows the same general patterns as the Victorian story:
- 3rd person
- Most of the modern scenes start with Mike or have him in the center or foreground.
- Mike tends to do most of the talking, questioning, and emoting
- Mike and Anna's gaze patterns tend to generally match Charles and Sarah's, respectively.
Very Overt Narration
Emphasizing narration/creation process
- Director's voice, makeup artist, clapboard at the beginning
- rehearsal scene; Mike in costume; Anna confirming Sarah's costume
- Dialog/Acting: Ernestina, Sarah, Mrs. Poulteney, Sarah and Charles in last scene.
Interrupting and commenting on the narrative
- Sudden cuts to bright (white) scenes of modern story
- Refer to graveyard scene before it happens
- Cut from rehearsal into finished scene
- Statistics on Victorian prostitution
- Comments on production: "You just had me.", "The film's nearly over.", "But that's our last scene!", "Have they decided how they are going to end the movie yet?"
Highlighting (Comparison and Contrast) b/w Stories
- Mike and Anna casually in bed after formal proposal of Charles to Ernestina
- Illicit nature of Mike and Anna's relationship revealed
- Matching gaze/conversation patterns between stories
- Sarah/Anna heads to London; Charles/Mike asking her to stay the night
- Reverse commentary (Victorian white scenes)