Movie Review: Possession (2002)
Movie (102 minutes, PG-13)
Based on the A. S. Byatt novel of the same name.
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart,
Jeremy Northam, and Jennifer Ehle
So I waded into the wilds of Netflix last night, intent on finding a good romance to share on this blog. Unfortunately, I failed miserably. Possession isn’t a bad movie per se, it’s just a bad romance.
American research assistant Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) toils in the dusty backrooms of British libraries and museums until he finds a never-before-discovered love letter from a famous (fictional) Victorian poet named Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam). He soon discovers that Ash—famed for his fidelity to his wife—was actually having an affair with another poet, Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle, of 1995’s Pride & Prejudice). He enlists the help of fellow scholar Maud Bailey (Gwyenth Paltrow) to uncover the whole story of their affair. The movie flows seamlessly between the modern world and 1850’s England.
Notice how I don’t mention much of a romance between Paltrow and Eckhart’s characters. That’s because there isn’t really one. They look at each other with awkward attraction, their kiss is kind of out of the blue, and nothing between the two leads me to believe that this attraction between them will last much beyond the inevitable publication of their findings. The scenes of passion and longing between the two Victorian poets resonates with far more authenticity, but again, since I don’t find affairs romantic, that didn’t really float for me either.
The poets’ words—shared while the modern characters read their letters and the poets think them—are quite beautiful and sound authentic to the era. I’m enough of a literary nerd that I enjoyed the process of tracking down these lost letters and the way the characters extrapolate clues from the diaries of people around Ash & LaMotte. Calling this a romantic thriller is a stretch on both fronts, but it’s my understanding that the book succeeds better on both counts.