The Bridges of Madison County: The perfect marriage of Clint Eastwood and the romantic genre

The Bridges of Madison County: The perfect marriage of Clint Eastwood and the romantic genre

On Clint Eastwood's birthday, here's looking back at the veteran star's romantic drama with Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County.

clint eastwood and meryl streep
Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep in a still from The Bridges of Madison County

“This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime.”

This is a line spoken by The Bridges of Madison County’s Robert Kincaid played by Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood in the screen adaptation of the book of the same name. It’s a simple line and left afloat by itself can stir powerful images. Removed from its context, the line could be about love, a career choice or a big decision. In the movie, the line is spoken with the right amount of firmness and love for the sake of love.

Clint Eastwood has been doing movies for over five decades now. He is a powerhouse who directs, produces and acts in films. And he has proven himself successful on all fronts. However, despite having tried his hand at nearly all genres, Eastwood has often been stereotyped as the gun-slinging cowboy he has played to perfection in his westerns.

Not many see Eastwood as the romantic hero. His face lacks the conventional softness and charm that the audience usually associates with ‘romantic leading men.’ But 1995’s The Bridges of Madison County proves those stereotypes wrong, and how.


The film has been written by Richard LaGravenese and has been co-produced and directed by Eastwood himself. It features Academy Award winners Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood in the lead.

The movie’s primary plotline revolves around an Italian woman (Streep) who lives with her husband and two children on a farm in Iowa. She leads a quiet and ordinary life as she tends to the house and her family’s needs. But soon she is paid a visit by a National Geographic photographer and her life takes a turn. The visit happens while the rest of her family is away at a state fair in Illinois. It’s a four-day affair of two middle-aged individuals who fall for each other with abandon.

It’s one of those romantic dramas that saves the sappiness and invests on building those thoughtful, lingering emotional moments on film. A love story that delivers heartbreaks like comedians deliver their punchlines.

Take this scene for instance. Streep’s character’s husband has returned from the fair. Her days of romance with Eastwood is over. She is stuck in the rain with her husband in the driving seat. She is remembering with fondness and heartrending longing the moments of passion she had shared recently with Eastwood’s character. They had parted ways earlier, with Streep choosing to stay behind with her husband and family. But then, out of nowhere, she spots Eastwood once again. It’s a La La Land moment. They stare at each other wishing things were different. And Streep presses firmly on the handle of the car’s door, wanting to open it. Wanting to rush to her love.

That moment of helplessness, of conflict and pain is maddeningly real. You can almost touch the tension, it’s a living thing. The love story of Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid was doomed from the start. And during an argument, Robert pretty much spells out the fate of their relationship–“I don’t want to need you, because I can’t have you.”

The Bridges of Madison County does not hold back on the ‘realness’ of it all and on the definite and inevitable end. Neither does it make a villain of Streep’s character’s husband. It is what it is. Two people who just cannot be together because, life, you see.

The performances are nuanced, but not loud. The writing like a piece of delicate silk. And the direction, smooth and unhindered.

Francesca and Robert are opposites, not so much in person, as they are in their circumstances. Robert’s profession requires him to move around a lot, to almost lead a nomadic life. Whereas, Francesca, a war bride, is rooted in her American country life. But life throws them together, and they go with it, despite knowing the kind of end their narrative would suffer from. They were as courageous as the screenplay itself. Giving, bold, and full of the kind of warmth you expect from love stories.