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Steven Spielberg's new film starring Meryl Streep
and Tom Hanks hits US theaters on December 22 2017.
  October 21st, 2012       Posted by Frederik       Display Comments

This Sunday we spotlight “The Bridges of Madison County”, Clint Eastwood’s 1995 romance that features one of Meryl’s greatest performances of the 1990s. Lots of updates have been made on the film, including new DVD screencaptures, over 100 new production stills, promotional pictures, on-set pictures and deleted scenes. The video archive has been updated as well with new clips and a lenghty excerpt from the 2008 documentary on the film’s making, An Old-Fashioned Love Story, which is worth a watch. Production notes and review after the cut. As always, please share your comments on “The Bridges of Madison County” in the comments.

Production Notes

Robert James Waller’s novel The Bridges of Madison County was a genuine literary phenomenon. The simple story set in 1965 about a married Iowa farm wife who has a brief but life-changing affair with a world-traveling photographer struck a chord with readers everywhere. The book was released in April of 1992 without much fanfare, but through word of mouth it quickly gained momentum. Within a few months it topped the New York Times Bestseller list, where it remained for the next three years. The Bridges of Madison County was such a popular book that it didn’t take long for Hollywood to come calling. Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin Entertainment quickly bought the movie rights. Spielberg considered directing the film himself, but became too busy working on Schindler’s List (1993). Director Sydney Pollack was also attached to the project for a time with Robert Redford rumored to play the male lead, the photographer Robert Kincaid. The lead characters of Kincaid and Francesca Johnson were both middle aged and called for older actors in the roles–a rarity in movies, especially a Hollywood love story. Francesca was the most hotly pursued female role in Hollywood at the time. A-list actresses over forty such as Jessica Lange, Isabella Rossellini, Susan Sarandon and Anjelica Huston were all considered leading contenders. Finally, it was Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies) who was officially announced as the director with Clint Eastwood firmly set to star as Robert Kincaid. At 65 Eastwood was a bit older than the 52-year-old character in the book, but after a career of playing mostly tough guys and steely cowboys, Eastwood saw the role as an intriguing opportunity to show a more sensitive side on screen.

I had a picture of who this was – I knew it was an Italian war bride, and I had grown up down the street from one. Her husband was a tall, blond man, and she barely spoke any English. Over the years she learned – she was a very bright, interesting woman – but there was always something exotic about her. Anyway, the book had this woman in jeans and braless. It was just hard for me to understand her. I had a pretty vivid picture of her, and I didn’t want to complicate it (laughs) with the authors actual intent. I honestly didn’t finish the book. I started it and then thought, I’ll wait for the screenplay. The screenplay had a woman in it. (Meryl Streep, Entertainment Weekly, March 2000)

Before long, however, Eastwood and director Beresford found themselves at odds over the crucial casting of Francesca, which had not yet been finalized. Francesca was supposed to be an Italian war bride who came to Iowa as an immigrant farm wife. Beresford wanted a more exotic, possibly European actress in the role such as Lena Olin or Isabella Rossellini. Eastwood felt strongly that the part should go to an American actress and began to champion Meryl Streep for the role. Beresford and Eastwood continued to clash, and eventually it was announced that Beresford was leaving the project. Eastwood, an accomplished director himself with films like The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Unforgiven (1992) for which he won an Academy Award as Best Director, decided to take over the director’s reins The first thing Eastwood did as director was pursue Meryl Streep for the role of Francesca. He had heard that she wasn’t a fan of the novel, so he called her personally to ask her to read the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese. Eastwood assured her that LaGravenese’s screenplay had made vast improvements over the book’s affected and often-criticized prose. Streep did like the script and soon happily agreed to play Francesca. Building on Beresford’s valuable pre-production work, Eastwood assembled the production quickly. He traveled to Iowa and scouted locations in and around Madison County. He visited the towns of Winterset and Abel as well as the picturesque covered bridges made famous by the novel. For the main set of Francesca’s home, a real farmhouse that had been abandoned for over thirty years was reconstructed. The cast and crew of The Bridges of Madison County soon descended on Iowa for the relatively brief forty-two day shoot.

Meryl Streep said later that the set was the quietest she had ever worked on. Eastwood worked very fast, she said, never raising his voice above a whisper and rarely asking for more than one or two takes. Eastwood also found time to write the main musical “love theme” for the movie called “Doe Eyes”, which was orchestrated for the film’s score by Lennie Niehaus. Eastwood also gave his son Kyle some onscreen time in the scene where Robert and Francesca visit a jazz club. Kyle, a real-life jazz musician with his own quartet, can be seen playing bass on stage with the James River Band. When The Bridges of Madison County was released, viewers and critics alike seemed pleasantly surprised at how good and poignant it was. The consensus was that it was an exceptional case of Hollywood making a movie that actually improved upon the book. The New York Times said that Eastwood had made “a moving, elegiac love story,” and the New York Daily News said, “There are moments here – that are as powerful as anything the movies have given us.” The film was also a financial success, as was its popular music soundtrack featuring Eastwood’s love theme and music from jazz greats Dinah Washington and Johnny Hartman. Meryl Streep was widely lauded for her stunning portrayal of Francesca, and was recognized with an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress that year.

Frederik’s Review

Clint Eastwood has been known as a great actor before he got his reputation as a brilliant director. “The Bridges of Madison County” has the benefit of featuring both of his talents. All too often, romantic films feature characters that either horribly suffer throughout the film in order to find love – or who hate each other dearly for most of the time until they realise they’re madly in love with each other. But in the end, they find themselves and you know it from the start. In “Bridges”, the two main characters are so richly drawn and so connected with their lives, that you’re not that sure what path they will go. The dialogue in the film is crucial, because you don’t need to wonder why these two feel attracted to each other – you witness it through their conversations. Here’s the Italian warbride who’s dreamed of America, but got stuck in a small town, knowing that nothing special will be happening in her life anymore. And there’s the adventurous photographer, grounded in life, but still on the go – and able to show her the places and times in life she has been yearning for all these years. What ultimately gives the film its human spirit is that both characters stay true to themselves. Robert fears that their affair will become public and that Francesca will become an outcast in her town. Francesca has to face the fact that, no matter how much she wishes for another life, she can’t leave the one she has, including her family and responsibility for them, behind. While love stories have never been my favorite genre, “The Bridges of Madison County” remains a remarkable film. The acting is outstanding and true to the story, as simple as it is heartbreaking. It’s one of Meryl’s best performances in the 1990s. Very recommended.

  • Tena

    I LOVE this movie!!
    Meryl is gorgeous and her every movement is just mesmerizing!
    And Clint Eastwood proves once again what a wonderful filmmaker he truely is!!
    They may be older than the average movie couple…..but they don’t get much hotter… fact, they made the cover of People magazine while the film was out!
    And I remember reading back then that Meryl had said in an interview that it was the easiest shoot she had ever worked on; that Clint had such an easygoing style.
    And in turn he said that Meryl was the best actress he had ever worked with and that every take she gave him was perfection.
    He added that sometimes he would ask her for another take just to make it seem like he was working hard……LOL!!
    All in all, a wonderful film that will move even the most cynical viewer and “bookending” the movie through the heroine’s children’s eyes was nothing short of brilliant!

  • brithna

    I can’t say enough about this movie. For me personally it touches something very deep and I’ll readily admit that I can only watch it every few years. The book and film both are like huge mirrors for so many…I just thank God Meryl was chosen to play Francesca. She nailed it.

  • cass

    I love this movie so much <33333 Meryl Streep has a flawless accent (as usual) in this movie and her performance with Clint is amazing and beautiful.

  • Sonja

    Another reason I’m quite grateful for MM! is that, without watching it, I’d might never fallen for Meryl so deeply and might never had the desire to watch Bridges of Madison County.
    I really don’t know why I had such a strange imagine the movie would be. Maybe the idea of Clint Eastwood as Meryl’s lover kinda turned me a bit off….
    But never judge a book or a movie by its cover!
    It turned out to be a wonderful tragic love story without the slightest kitsch.
    It was real and honest. Both, Meryl and Clint, gave everything they had in their characters.
    You feel with them, laugh with them, love with them and know it won’t end well. But…. exactly that’s what makes the story so real.
    Tha car scene is so painful, but also pitch perfect imo.

  • Katrin

    What a wonderful movie of the week sequence – from Mamma Mia! to The Bridges of Madison County! (Another essay-subject…)
    Though I don’t know what is to come, this film is and -I’m sure- will be my all time favourite movie. I love it since the nineties, when it touched me for very personal reasons. I felt (and feel) very much for the character of Robert, his deep and unique feelings, his helplessness. Nowadays I would really like to have a discussion with Francesca about her decision, if she would have taken it again that way.
    When I watched the movie the first time in the original language (almost ten years after its release), I was completely stunned by the effect of the “Iowatalian” accent. I thought it was not possible, but indeed my admiration for the actress and the film did grow further. I can’t count the times I watched it, I sort of exhausted the whole subject, the timeless, important and challenging questions concerning life, love, friendship and -of course- decisions.
    Although there is almost no nude scene in the film, I really find it “intensely erotic”. The tension between the two leads is practically palpable. I love every single detail of Meryl Streeps acting, the speaking, the gestures, the facial expressions (e.g. when she confesses her unfulfilled dreams), the movements (e.g. when she closes the door of the fridge with the foot in her very first scene or) – simply perfect, simply Streep.
    I loved to read the script of Richard LaGravenese, too, it reveals some very nice additional details.
    In my opinion there are many thought provoking and -to me- true phrases in the film, “This kind of certainty…”, “Do what you have to, to be happy in this life.” and last not least, but the best to end this comment: “There is so much beauty.”

  • Manuel

    I found the book kitschy and unbearably artificial. The movie was not kitsch in any single moment, and it was the most natural thing to watch these two people getting intimate. Maybe, above all, a movie about intimacy and silence. Which Streep is simply great at moving in, like a fish in the water. In particular I liked this very particular unsecurity she conveys – it’s not the loud unsecurity of a thirty year old, or the forceful one of a teen – it’s the silent and rather ‘insignificant’, but existential one of a strong woman in her fourties.

  • Jane

    Such a wonderful movie – subtle, real, touching. I agree, the dialogue is really fantastic but also there is so much going on between them that is conveyed through minimal looks and gestures. This is something Meryl is so great at as an actor. She does it brilliantly in this movie and I think it is one of her best performances, not only in the 90s.
    Also, kudos to Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, the movie really is so much better than the book.

  • Jessica

    Thought about this movie yesterday when I was lying in bath, water dripping slowly fron the tap. Love this movie to bits!

  • Daine Louise

    This is one of the movie wherein I was fascinated with. Especially the scene in a car door where Francesca wants to go out to be with the man.. oh men! that scene really crush my heart and I cry.. So adorable.

  • Rose

    I absolutely love this movie. I can’t watch it with anyone because i’ll cry so hard they won’t be able to hear. I love this movie. it show true talent of meryl and clint. I must see for every one! this movie got me through some hard times because it allowed me to escape. not necessarily to a happier place, but to another place none the less. the car scene is unbearable. you can see the struggle she goes through, the inner battle she fights. Her hand on the doorknob….

  • Rebecca

    I remember when I watched “Bridges” together with my mother at the cinema and how I cried at the end! It was so sad. This scene with the car door was almost unbearable!
    One of Meryl Streeps best films! And one of my favorites. But nowadays, I have to admit, I can´t watch the last hour of the movie, because of the ending!

  • Saskia

    it is my favourite film of meryl. i don´t comment too often here but on this film i have to leave a comment :-). it made me cry so hard the first time i saw it and i didn´t even know what to expect. i think the acting is just amazing of both meryl and clint. it is a film that shows love in such a deep and honest way ( without too many kissing scenes and all :-). it always takes me to a completely different world when i watch it and i can feel everything franceska and robert go through. a true masterpiece.

  • Harry

    This film yet again proves why Meryl is simply the best!!!! The role of Francesca is one of the most memorable roles that Meryl have ever played. And it is one of the best and most breathing performances from 1990s as Frederick said. Another one would be One True Thing. The scene with Meryl in the car near the end is absolutely phenomenal, breathtaking, natural, intricate and emotional. I can go on and on about Meryl’s performance in this film but nothing can describe how great that is. The film itself is quietly stunning and epic in a way! Must see for all Meryl’s fans!!!!

  • Frédérique971

    this is my favorite meryl streep’s movie.
    She’s so great and really touching.
    Every time I saw “Sur la route de Madison” I cried because I SWEAR SHE OPEN THE F…… DOOR !!!!
    <3 <3 <3

  • petunia

    I agree completly with Frederick´s review,it is very, very insightful, deep and honest, this time we can´t be more shearing thoughts, sort of speak