Film review by: Witney Seibold
It’s well known by anyone who has experienced it, that love is a wonderful thing that can bring ecstasy alongside unbridled pain. Neil LaBute’s captivating new film “Possession,” adapted from the A.S. Byatt novel, is one of the only romances that I have seen that indicates that falling in love may not be the best end to a romantic journey.
Roland (Aaron Eckhart) is a scruffy not-so-well-read American living in
England as a professor’s aide. It is the centennial of Randolph Henry Ash’s collection of love poems to his wife. Never has there been a man more faithful than Ash (played in flashbacks by Jeremy Northam). Maud (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a very-well-read scholar on poet Christabel LaMotte. LaMotte (played in flashbacks by Jennifer Ehle) was an Emily Dickinson-like lesbian recluse. When Roland stumbles upon a manuscript that may possibly link these two as an unlikely couple, he and Maud reluctantly go investigating. They discover the true story behind their respective poets, and, in the process, begin to have a cautious romance themselves.
This film’s passages in the present are masterfully put forth. LaBute, who is best known for acid-laced adult dramas like “Your Friends & Neighbors,” was able to create a romance between Roland and Maud that is not without character honesty, but is without that painful fluff that infects the genre. Refreshing further was that Roland and Maud’s romance was resolved far before the picture ended. It is how screen romance should be done. Don’t make us feel the sweetness. Make us feel the edge of love fitting into everyday life.
The film’s extended flashbacks involving the two poets, however, are what weighed it down a bit. Northan and Ehle are wonderful actors, and the design and feel were real and honest (indeed worthy of Merchant/Ivory), but the sub-plot felt out-of-place. The actions of the people in the past didn’t reflect enough on what was going on in the present. Had slightly more or considerably less attention been paid to it, the shape of the film would have been far more pleasing.
As it is, though, it is a well-structured romance.