Wingers Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp both came off the bench for the Lionesses, with the latter in particular instrumental in the late fightback which threatened to turn the game on its head against the team ranked third in the world.
Ellen White, deputising as captain for teammate Steph Houghton, started up front for Hege Riise’s side and thought she’d broken the deadlock after 32 minutes after tapping home Beth Mead’s low ball across the box.
But the goal was rightfully chalked out for offside, as Mead jumped the gun when latching on to Keira Walsh’s incisive through ball.
And it went from bad to worse for England moments later, with France getting their noses in front from the resulting passage of play as Sandy Baltimore convincingly dispatched Kadidiatou Diani’s cutback with a vicious drive back across goal.
Hege Riise’s Lionesses regrouped and went close before the break through former City forward Nikita Parris, but found themselves two down in frustrating fashion after the hour.
Elisa de Almeida collided with Rachel Daly inside the box after Diani’s stinging drive had cannoned back off the bar and substitute Vivane Asseye coolly converted the resulting spot-kick to double the hosts’ lead.
But the Lionesses had a penalty of their own with the game reaching its dying embers, courtesy of a typical darting run from Hemp.
The winger was wrestled to the ground after making an instant impact off the bench, with Fran Kirby tucking home to give England hope of a late fightback.
It was the first time France had conceded in over 13.5 hours of football, and Walsh went agonisingly close to bringing Hege Riise’s side level with 10 to play, crashing an effort back off the post after more good work from Hemp down the left.
However, the momentum once again swung in favour of the hosts, who restored their two-goal lead a minute later when Marie-Antoinette Katoto finished from close-range after smart wing play from Diani.
Elsewhere, it was better news for Janine Beckie, who transferred her fine form for City onto an international setting to help Canada secure a convincing 3-0 win away to Wales.
The winger came off the bench and laid on her side’s second of the evening for Evelyne Viens to grab her first international goal just before the hour.
Beckie will lock horns with her City teammates on Tuesday when England take on Canada at Stoke City’s Bet365 Stadium.