Every so often, an actor or actress will achieve a fame which transcends any memory of their work, and he or she becomes synonymous with the word "star." Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) was one such person. A commanding performance by Glenda Jackson towers over this episodic drama chronicling the early life of legendary stage actress Bernhardt. The film follows Bernhardt's career trajectory from her early years on the French stage, through a period of celebrity and notoriety, until an early comeback at the age of 35. The film begins when Bernhardt wins a Comedie Francaise audition as a teenager in 1860 and vows, "I shall be the greatest actress that ever lived." What follows is a sampler of the more bizarre aspects of Bernhardt's career -- from giving birth to a nobleman's son out of wedlock, to her proclivity towards sleeping in a coffin, to her insistence on being paid after every performance in gold. Interspersed throughout the film is Jackson as Bernhardt performing excerpts from La Passant, Phedre, La Dame aux Camelias, and King Lear.
by Paul Brenner synopsis