Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott headed England into a 30th-minute lead to leave Roy Hodgson's men dreaming of the perfect start to their campaign on a sweltering night at the Donbass Arena.
But Lescott's City team-mate Samir Nasri struck back with a 39th-minute equaliser, lashing a low shot from outside the area to give France a share of the points and extend Les Bleus unbeaten run to 22 games.
England coach Roy Hodgson was more than happy to have shared the spoils.
"I think we played well as we we played against a tough team," said Hodgson.
"We were very disciplined and to finish 1-1 and ask the questions of them we did we've got to be happy.
"I'm not frustrated at giving away the equaliser as we kept them at bay really. In fact we had our own chances."
His French counterpart Laurent Blanc believed it was the correct outcome.
"We're not entirely thrilled, but we're not entirely disappointed either," Blanc said.
"We could have lost this game had we not reacted (after England scored), so that's one of the positives. But I think if you look at the game, the side that played the most football was France."
A cagey opening period saw both sides begin cautiously, and it was 11 minutes before anyone got a shot on goal with Nasri's low shot flying just wide of Manchester City team-mate Joe Hart's post.
Yet England seemed far from cowed by the occasion, and should have taken the lead four minutes later after Ashley Young slipped in James Milner with a lovely through pass that caught France square.
The Manchester City midfielder rounded Hugo Lloris with his first touch but then failed to find the net from a tight angle.
Moments later Yohan Cabaye tested Hart from long range, the City keeper diving to his left to stop his low strike.
Meanwhile Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a surprise starter on the left side of midfield ahead of Stewart Downing, enjoyed a confident start, dispossessing Adil Rami early on and producing one memorable jinking run.
England's bright opening yielded its reward on 30 minutes with the breakthrough coming from a setpiece.
Captain Steven Gerrard swung in a pinpoint free-kick from the right flank and Lescott took advantage of acres of space afforded him by Alou Diarra to head past Lloris from close range.
Yet the England goal was the cue for a period of dominance from France which lasted until the half-time whistle.
Diarra almost made immediate amends with a header of his own, Hart parrying high after the defensive midfielder met Nasri's pinpoint freekick.
In the ensuing scramble Franck Ribery headed back across goal but Diarra's second effort went wide.
A French equaliser seemed on though and it arrived through Nasri six minutes from half-time, the forward taking advantage of an English side standing too deep to squeeze a ferocious shot just inside Hart's post.
England seemed content to slow the pace of the game in the second half, and passed confidently without ever threatening France.
Gradually however France's superior technique began to tell, and England spent long periods of the closing minutes on the back foot.
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema, well shackled by Scott Parker for much of the match, forced a fine low save from Hart on 65 minutes.
Benzema, who had drawn a booking for Ashley Young on 71 minutes then went close again, curling a shot goalwards which Gerrard headed behind for a corner.
But though England seemed to be tiring rapidly in the final stages, France were unable to find the winner as the match wound down, with Benzema's late strike parried by Hart.
England will face Sweden in Kiev on Friday in their second game while France face Ukraine in Donetsk.