“Streep is having one....
"I cite two moments from her performance here. When the 1867 woman decides to give herself to Irons, he carries her into the bedroom, and she lies on the bed waiting for him to get out of his complicated Victorian clothes as quickly as he can. Reisz wisely keeps the camera on her the whole time. Her face is like an elixir of fate and fascination....
Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic, September 23, 1981
Field of View, pp. 123-
“.... Vanessa Redgrave, an earlier casting suggestion, would have been infinitely more haunting and more memorable.... It is not that Meryl Streep is not beautiful in certain contexts. It is simply that certain registers of flamboyance and abandon that may be within her acting range are not necessarily within her visual range....
“Yet it would be a mistake to say that Miss Streep is a washout as Sarah. Her best moments arise not from the intuitions in her gaze but from the profound self-awareness in her voice. If this were 1930, we could say confidently that Meryl Streep was going to become one of the great actresses of talking pictures. She can tell a story verbally with the feeling and grace and style one associates with the most gifted practitioners in prose...."
Andrew Sarris, Village Voice, September 9-15, 1981
‘Streep is clearly the Olivia de Havilland of the ‘80s. Middlebrows can see all the gears working in her acting technique, so she will probably get more Oscars than she deserves before people tire of the endless ways she can shake out her hair while reading a line.... ”
Sarris, March 8, 1982
“…. Meryl Streep presents a countenance that is practically a movie in itself—pale and passionate, with wildly darting greenish eyes, a small, frightened mouth, and suggestions of sensual abandon in the way she nuzzles the inside of the hood…. By keeping her voice calm, quiet, governessy, Streep makes Sarah thoroughly ambiguous and enigmatic. One longs for an unregenerate wildness to break out of her and smash the movie’s 'literate' surface, but that is not to be. This fine performance is so studied, so carefully nuanced, that it never takes full flight.”
David Denby, New York, September 28, 1981
“.... [T]he one essential is that the distraught heroine, Sarah Woodruff ... must be alluringly mysterious. If she isn’t, there’s no story.... We never really get into the movie, because, as Sarah, Meryl Streep gives an immaculate, technically accomplished performance, but she isn’t mysterious. She’s pallid and rather glacial.... Meryl Streep’s technique doesn’t add up to anything. We’re not fascinated by Sarah; she’s so distanced from us that all we can do is observe how meticulous Streep—and everything else about the movie—is….
“Much of The French Lieutenant’s Woman might be taking place in a glass case, and Streep seems to be examining her performance while she gives it...."
Pauline Kael, The New Yorker, October 12, 1981
Taking It All In, pp. 237-240