The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a film with the look of a lush period piece and the structure of postmodern metafiction. When it came time to design the cover, we wanted something that would emphasize the ways the film makes you aware of itself as narrative, as the construction of a book author (and a director, and actors, and a cinematographer, and . . .). I had the idea to create a portrait of Meryl Streep–as–Anna–as–Sarah, built entirely from words. On an in-story level, this makes sense, as Sarah is defined by the scandalous stories that are told about her (and that she tells about herself.) And on a metafictional level, it emphasizes that all the characters are ultimately the creations of a writer, John Fowles.
There’s an iconic image in the film of Streep wearing a hood and looking over her shoulder. It was used extensively in the original promotional campaign, and it provided a perfect template for this idea, as it reduces beautifully to a graphic silhouette that’s still instantly recognizable. Using that shot and an assortment of re-created script pages, I cut up and layered the text to create the final cover image, as shown above.
It was important to us to anchor the cover in the visual identity of the film; we didn’t want something so abstract that it would have worked just as well to represent the original novel. Imagine this same concept without the famous face and it loses a layer of meaning—it would represent only the character. But because we recognize Streep, we recognize the image, at least on a subconscious level, as that of an actor playing a role.
This post, inspired by the book Criterion Designs, is a continuation of our efforts to share insights into the collaborative process of creating images for our releases. Eric Skillman is a designer and art director at the Criterion Collection.