Movie Review by Annabel Bayross
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle, Trevor Eve
Director: Neil LaBute
As a student, Neil LaBute had a great love for A S Byatt’s 1990 Booker Prize-winning novel, Possession. This passion led him to direct a faithful screen adaptation of the novel.
Roland Mitchell (Aaron Eckhart), an American scholar on a fellowship to study Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam), poet Laureate to Queen Victoria, stumbles across an original love letter, wedged between the dusty pages of a reference book found in the British Library.
Curiosity and intrigue getting the better of him, he decides to pocket the artifact and seek advice from Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow) an English academic, researching the life and works of another Victorian poet Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle). The brilliant but somewhat stuffy Maud, at first finds herself set against the maverick Roland but his enthusiasm and vivacity become addictive and consuming. They are quick to join thinking forces and soon unearth a collection of love letters which they believe are illicit exchanges between Ash and LaMotte.
The scholarly couple trace the steps made a century before by their counterparts, following the trail across England and over to the continent. The story moves between the 19 th century and modern day but the passionate tale that unfolds is of forbidden and secret love. What becomes shockingly apparent to the modern sleuths is the discovery that Christabel and Ash simply could not resist their desire for each other. This is juxtaposed with the tentative relationship forming between Maud and Roland and the dilemma facing them – to take a chance on love, now knowing the chaos it can cause.
Although the film successfully captures the romantic atmosphere of discovery and intrigue, it does seem to rely too heavily on the words of the poets. Too much time is spent reciting and recollecting what was written a century before. However Ehle’s talented performance of Christabel LaMotte is played with sheer mystery and charm – understandably stereotyped to play period roles – this performance reiterates why.
POSSESSION is about love and romance. Breaking away from the restraints of society and following ones heart. It is a charming film that captivates its audience by echoing and entwining past history with present reality.