Possession (2002) Poster

(2002)

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unusual and intriguing romantic drama
Roland E. Zwick24 August 2002
`Possession' has all the intricacy, mystery and suspense of a classic piece of detective fiction. What sets this film apart, however, is that the object of the mystery does not involve a dead body, a piece of stolen treasure or a missing person, but rather the hitherto secret love affair between two well-known 19th Century English poets. The clues come in the form of journal entries, love letters and snippets of enigmatic poetry that, when pieced together, afford a glimpse into the inner yearnings of these two young, but essentially unrequited lovers.

As a narrative, `Possession' runs on two parallel tracks, one set in modern times (that's where the detective story aspect comes in) and the other set in 1859, as we learn the details of the romance that took place between the writers. In the contemporary plot strand, Aaron Eckhart stars as Roland Michell, a handsome young American research assistant who has come to England to study the work of famed poet Randolph Henry Ash, a writer with a certain misogynistic strain who nevertheless enjoys the rather unique reputation among poets of having been utterly faithful to his wife. As the story begins, Ash has become something of a cause celebre within British literary circles because the year 2000 happens to mark the centenary of the discovery of his work. While poring over a first edition copy of one of Ash's volumes, Roland stumbles across some original letters of Ash's that hint at the possibility that Ash, contrary to the public impression of his marital fidelity, may actually have had an affair with another famed poet of the time, a Miss Christabel La Motte, a woman believed by her biographers to have been a lesbian. Confronted with this startling, revolutionary and, perhaps, priceless piece of information, Roland sets out to unravel the mystery, accompanied by Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), an expert on the life and work of Miss LaMotte (and a distant descendant of that famed poet in the bargain).

`Possession' earns points automatically simply by providing us with a unique storyline and a fascinating glimpse into a world we have rarely if ever seen portrayed on screen - the world of literary investigation. We are fascinated by all the behind-the-scene details showing not merely the investigative footwork that goes into unearthing the biographical details of a writer's life, but also the sometimes-cutthroat nature that propels rival investigators to both make and publish their discoveries, even if that means utilizing tactics that can be described as, at best, unethical, and, at worst, illegal.

But `Possession' offers more than just that. It also manages to provide not merely one, but two complex romances occurring at the same time (though a full century apart in the context of the story). Randolph and Christabel are both products - and victims - of their Victorian Era morality, yet at the same time, their struggles are universal in nature and neatly correspond to those experienced by Roland and Maud, who literally follow in the footsteps of the earlier couple. As our modern day investigators travel the same route through England that Randolph and Christabel took a century previous, Roland and Maud reveal much about their own inability to make commitments in the face of possible true love. As they tentatively grope towards one another, then back away out of fear of pain and rejection, Roland and Maud define, in many ways, the métier of modern romantic coupling. Yet, we discover, through Randolph and Christabel, that life in the past really wasn't much different from what it is today.

Based on the novel by A.S. Byatt, the David Henry Hwang/Laura Jones/Neil LaBute screenplay provides highly charged scenes between our two romantic couples, particular those involving Roland and Maud. The dialogue in these encounters is often sharp, intelligent, incisive. The romantic moments between Raymond and Christabel have a slightly more conventional feel to them, but they, too, often ring true in a way that is both deeply moving and strangely exciting. Director LaBute has drawn wonderful performances out of his quartet of first-rate actors. Aaron Eckhart as Roland and Jennifer Ehle as Christabel are particularly effective in their roles.

It's refreshing to see a romantic drama that manages to generate some actual chemistry between its two on-screen lovers. In the case of `Possession,' our pleasure is thereby doubled, since the film accomplishes this with not merely one couple but two. `Possession' may not provide the blood, gore, corpses and hair-raising thrills one usually associates with detective fiction, but its devotion to the drama found in words, poetry, language and romance makes for no less an engrossing experience.
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6/10
pretty to look at, but have the filmmakers understood the book?
frodolives29 April 2004
This film offers some gorgeous visuals and some great performances - notably those by Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle (a bit of a casting joke since those two are famous for playing Jane Austen's Mr. Knightley and Elisabeth Bennet, respectively) - but as a literary adaptation, the movie falls short on too many points. Sadly, the filmmakers have missed out on most of the central themes of the novel, without substituting a sufficiently interesting interpretation of their own.

A.S. Byatt's novel examines the shifting relationships between men and women a century and a half apart - to that end, the characters in the two storylines (the Victorian and the contemporary) mirror each other deliberately. For some unfathomable reason, the screenwriters have decided to cut out completely two crucial characters from the modern-time storyline - Val, Roland's girlfriend, and the feminist (and Lesbian) researcher friend of Maud's, whose name I forget - their equivalents in the Victorian period are Ash's wife, and Christabel's lover Blanche.

One of the main interests of the original story lies in the ways in which the relationships between those characters have changed because of the changes in society that the 20th century has brought - particularly the way the main characters relate to each other (significantly, Maud is the stronger and more successful person in the modern-time relationship) - but also with respect to all the other characters involved (Roland and Val's relationship, which is based almost exclusively on sex, as contrasted with Ash's and his wife's relationship, which is entirely sex-less - the point here being that in a truly fulfilled relationship, these two things must be in balance).

Also, the characters, particularly that of Roland, are bent and twisted beyond recognition - I have nothing against Aaron Eckhard or his performance, but he simply plays a completely different character from the Roland Mitchell of the novel - who is *not* brash (nor is he celibate), but has a certain mousy-ness about him that is quite essential to the plot. Also, he is British for a reason, so making him into an American adds a completely wrong dimension to his and Maud's differences. Judging from the director's commentary, the main reason for casting Eckhard was that he's a buddie of director Neil La Bute's - it's a sad thing that the filmmakers decided to twist the character and plot to accomodate the actor, rather than making a more informed casting choice, as I am sure there are plenty of suitable British actors out there that would have fitted the part admirably.

Gwyneth Paltrow offers a convincing enough performance, and is well-cast as Maud Bailey - a woman whose physical attractiveness stands in the way of her being taken seriously as the bright academic she is. But she is not being given enough scope to be the reserved intellectual she is supposed to be, because her relationship with Roland developes far too quickly, and with not enough plausibility (particularly given a certain lack of chemistry between the two actors) - thereby missing another of the main themes (and contrasts) in the novel.

Having said that, the film is worth watching for its final five minutes alone - and incidentally, this is the one scene that catches most accurately the spirit, and the point, of the original novel.
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9/10
A breathtaking adaptation except for one thing...
espineli19 August 2002
I went to watch the movie with a little trepidation...after all, I've had images of these characters in my head for years...but I also went with much excitement, as I have been waiting for this movie to come for some time now.

First of all, Neil LaBute captured the snobbery of the whole academic scene very well, albeit very briefly. However, the British characters make so much comment about the fact that he's an American, that it borders on the ridiculous. Most of the actual British people I've met actually like Americans, and although they make the occasional joke about them, they don't carry on like the academicians in the movie. The point I am making is that the other characters seem to emphasize Roland's brashness so much that Roland doesn't even have a chance to show what he's truly made of, why he's there working with Professor Blackadder, over any dozens of other graduate students (British or not) who could have had his place.

Much has been said about making the character of Roland an American. Actually, I think that the choice of bringing an American into the academic mix not only changes this from something more suited to "Masterpiece Theatre" TV to something worthy of the big screen. Roland is the outsider in the book, a lower-class Brit, but he is also someone who harbors poetic aspirations and more passion for his chosen subject (Ash) than any of his colleagues. The fact that he is an American in the movie helps to emphasize his outsider identity. But the audience is never truly shown this at all in the movie.

This is the true misstep of the movie (and I have a feeling that perhaps some of it is on the cutting room floor): Roland's character is so underdeveloped in the movie that anyone coming to the movie without having read the book cannot help but feel he is a "fish-out-of-water." Sure, they have scenes of Roland reading a book of Ash poetry and a brief flash of Roland writing poetry in a notebook. But the latter scene seemed to exist only for Gwyneth Paltrow's character (Maud Bailey) to have another opportunity to make fun of Roland, and not to help reveal any sort of depth to his character.

As a fan of the book, I did enjoy the movie after all. The Victorian scenes were especially beautiful and I loved the seamless cutting between past and present in the same spaces, the same rooms. Since my only misgiving is that it was too short, I feel that LaBute was successful in his adaptation...I guess I will have to look to the DVD to see if he had intended to flesh out Roland's character more. Unfortunately, Roland is never even given a chance to show what he's made of, except for the fact that he steals a letter from a book -- the catalyst of both the movie and the book. His "American-ness" in this case -- his boldness and his guile -- is a good thing. It's just too bad that we don't see more of why he likes Ash so much and what really motivates him to take up the literary chase with Maud...and this is why I would recommend to anyone who's enjoyed the movie that they should read the book...it will amaze you how much LaBute managed to keep in, and it will astound you to become more acquainted with the quadrangle of characters and their individual passions and motivations.
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Refreshing change
rogerdarlington12 November 2002
I'm a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow whom I regard as an actress of rare talent and beauty so, in spite of many reviewers being parsimonious in their praise for this film, I ventured out to London's Leicester Square to make my own judgement and did not regret it. Following her performances in "Emma", "Sliding Doors" and "Shakespeare In Love", for the fourth time Paltrow adopts an impeccable English accent.

This time she plays an academic specialising in the work of an obscure 19th century poet called Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle, whom I enjoyed in "This Year's Love"). She is approached by an American researcher, Roland Michell, played by a permanently unshaven Aaron Eckhart, who has discovered a possible romantic connection between LaMotte and fellow poet Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam, last seen in that other costume drama "Gosford Park"). It turns out that Ash's marriage has no physical side (for reasons which are not explained), while LaMotte's lesbian relationship may not be as exclusive as was thought.

All this sounds more raunchy that it is. There is in fact little sex and no nudity at all on show; yet director Neil LaBute ensures that sensuality imbues scene after scene. Set against the unusual locations of Lincoln and Whiteby, the modern-day academics retrace the steps of the two poets both physically and romantically in cross-cutting scenes that reminded me of the structure of "The French Lieutenant's Woman". If you're a pubescent popcorn-guzzler, you'll hate this movie and find it terribly slow and literary (it is based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by A S Byatt); on the other hand, if you'd like something different from the usual mindless, blockbuster fare, you'll probably find this a refreshing change.
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10/10
A Totally New Perspective from Neil LaBute
jhclues25 August 2002
A rose by any other name is still a rose; and so it is with love. And whether or not history reflects any of the great love stories of the past accordingly and/or contextually correct, it does not alter the fact of it. The rose of the romance four generations later, for example, may become known as the lily; neither does that alter the fact of what was, nor of what is, all of these decades later, indelibly etched upon the mind's eye of eternity. `Possession,' directed by Neil LaBute, is just such a story, within a story; one the actual passion of which may have been inadvertently diminished, however, through the misinterpretation of the chroniclers who years before set it all down in annals made figuratively of stone, and which, once set, forever after endured. A romantic film of an even more romantic notion, it's a twofold tale of love, the stories of which, though separated by generations, are in the end, in nature one and the same. Because, as this film so richly reveals, love indeed lives eternal, and is borne on the very same flame throughout the ages.

Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart), an American, is in London on a fellowship researching the life and work of 19th Century poet Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam), poet laureate to Queen Victoria. History recognizes Ash as a dedicated and faithful husband, and his love poems-- purportedly written to or about his wife-- are considered to be among his most noteworthy accomplishments. In the course of his studies, however, Michell happens across some passionate letters written by Ash to a woman; a woman who is, without question, not his wife. And all evidence points to poetess Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle) as being the receiver of the letters-- and of Ash's affections.

Galvanized by the thought that he may have discovered something that would change history, he seeks out Dr. Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), currently doing research of her own on LaMotte, in hopes that she will assist him in his quest to uncover the truth about Ash. Initially skeptical, Bailey acquiesces, and together they set out across England, following what appears to be the trail of Ash and LaMotte's movements during what Michell and Bailey calculate to have been the period of the romantic interlude between the poets. And what follows is a journey of discovery for Michell and Bailey; about the tenets of truth, history, and most importantly, about love.

LaBute, Laura Jones and David Henry Hwang wrote the screenplay for this film, adapted from the novel by A.S. Byatt. And for LaBute, known for such films as `Your Friends and Neighbors,' `Nurse Betty' and the scathing `In the Company of Men,' it's an artistic turn of 180 degrees. Absent are the misogynists and narcissists who typically populate his landscapes, replaced by characters the audience can warm to, if not embrace entirely. First and foremost, this is an enthralling love story, made all the more so by LaBute's sensitive and sensible presentation. Visually, it is stunning, as well; Jean-Yves Escoffier's masterful cinematography fully captures the exquisite beauty of the setting, which complements the romance and makes for an entirely transporting experience.

What makes this film altogether satisfying, however, is that LaBute (via Byatt) manages to transcend the dominant romantic aspects of it, interjecting a very subtle consideration of established social precepts and principles, as well. There is a decided sense of Ibsen about it, in attitude, outlook and especially in the suggestion of the `roles' men and women are assigned according to the dictates of `Society,' both then and now. And there is an obvious parallel drawn between the characters of LaMotte and Bailey. Generations later, Bailey has become the person LaMotte aspired to be, and would have been except for the constraints of the times, exemplified by the direction LaMotte's life necessarily had to take, as compared with the options Bailey would enjoy in the same situation today.

The casting of this film could not have been better, beginning with LaBute stalwart Eckhart, who perfectly realizes the character of Michell. Through his performance, he manages to carry the pivotal role of the film, without making his character the focus. Michell is central to the story, but it is not `about' him, though Eckhart does give him something of an enigmatic presence, revealing just enough about him to maintain interest, but no more. Eckhart directs attention to what Michell is doing, rather than who he is, which successfully effects the desired results, and makes the film work.

From the moment she appears on screen, Gwyneth Paltrow is a commanding presence. Her initial entrance is fairly inauspicious, and yet when she steps into the room the eye is automatically drawn to her; it's one of those cinematic ` moments' destined to remain suspended in time. She imbues Maud with a confident reserve which enables her to dominate the scenes she shares with Eckhart, pointing up not only her considerable ability as an actor, but Eckhart's generosity. Beyond all of which, Paltrow has eyes that draw you in like tractor beams.

The players who make this film so emotionally engaging, however, are Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Northam. With acting souls seemingly tempered for period piece drama, Ehle (`Pride and Prejudice') and Northam (`Wuthering Heights,' `Carrington') make the perfect LaMotte and Ash. In Ehle's Christabel, we discern a character of independence and strength, beneath which lies the romantic nature of the poet; in Northam's Ash we find gentleness and charm, a dreamer who seeks out and finds that which is beautiful and good about the world, the spirit of which he manifests in his work. Their respective performances are elegant, and there is a definite chemistry between them that renders the romance viable and convincing.

The supporting cast includes Trevor Eve (Cropper), Toby Stephens (Fergus), Tom Hickey (Blackadder) and Lena Headey (Christabel's friend). `Possession' is an excursion into new territory for LaBute, and the result is a memorable, transfixing experience for his audience. 10/10.
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8/10
Unexpectedly Magical Film!
Charity Winters8 June 2005
I recently watched Possession and went into it with low expectations...counting on it to compare with some of Paltrow's other flops like Bounce or Duets, but I am thrilled to say I was pleasantly surprised by this film. First of all, Paltrow's co-star is the fresh new actor, Aaron Eckhart and not played out Ben Affleck or non-actor musician, Huey Lewis. So right off the bat, I was pleased by that!Possession is an extremely intelligent film that oozes with intrigue as Paltrow and Eckhart race to solve the mystery of a heart-wrenching romantic scandal taken from history. It weaves together a relatable modern-day romance with an irresistibly passionate Victorian love story. This film is very "out of the box" and unexpected...an extremely unconventional romance that makes you think. I love those and think you will too!
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6/10
Airport-Novel of a Movie
Flagrant-Baronessa30 September 2006
It needs to be said; this is not a very good film, but it does keep up the appearance of one fairly well, carrying a facade of mystery, romance and great literature. The director navigates two parallel story lines – one taking place between two secret lovers in the mid-1800s and one taking place between two soon-to-be-lovers in the 21st century – the latter couple finding their romance as they are unlocking the lovestory of the former... through letters. The bad news is that the director only put his heart into one of the story lines, namely the costume one, and as a result, the modern day lovestory between Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart as literary sleuths suffers greatly. Nevertheless, Possession makes for an OK diversion into quasi-romance.

Starting in the positive end then, period-junkies Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle are breathtaking to watch as poets during the Richmond period in England. They are two people who cannot be together, for one has chosen a wife and the other has chosen a life of 'shared solitude' (which is a euphemism for a lesbian relationship). Yet they begin a correspondence of love letters, which blossoms into a fully-fletched romance, embroidered in intrigue and quiet passion. Ehle's beautiful, reassuring smiles conveying the latter. At times their story is achingly romantic, so I think this aspect is very nicely tended to in the film. The graceful words in their letters even invests the film in a lyrical flow of sorts.

For our modern day story, Gwyneth Paltrow plays the icy literary expert Maud Bailey, who is also a descendant of Ehle's character, but clearly lacking in her passion. The film offers no satisfying explanation as to why the chilly Maud suddenly warms up and falls for Roland (Eckhart), other than they they are researching the lost letters together. I love Eckhart, but truly believe he is all wrong for this part. He ends up clumsy and flat and underdeveloped in the film (the novel probably offered more insight into his character, I don't know) and again, Maud's attraction to him seems far-fetched. I really can't stress how bad their storyline is; no description will do it justice.

Otherwise, Possession does a fair job of melting themes of love and love lost as it progresses and it occasionally manages thrilling. In order to get events unfolding, Maud and Roland unlock the mystery of the ancient lovestory by conveniently appearing clues, hidden hatches and notes. It's into Da Vinci Code territory with this approach to plot, but it works to a point. There is also seamless, fluent intercutting of the two parallel stories in the editing process. Neither a very solid nor very interesting template here, but "Possession" does make for a fine pastime.

6 out of 10
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Attractive, but unremarkable
Poseidon-322 December 2003
Two love stories unfold simultaneously in this attractive, sensitive, but not wholly successful adaptation of a popular novel. Eckhart plays an American literary researcher in England who stumbles upon some long lost and completely unknown love letters by a Victorian poet (who just happens to be having his centenary celebrated!) He pairs with an icy doctoral researcher (Paltrow) and they begin to piece together a heretofore undiscovered relationship between the married poet (Northam) and a fellow poetess (Ehle) who is involved in a long-standing lesbian love affair. The stories are presented in turns, often accented by some clever setups in which the same settings reveal jumps in time. Eckhart (an immensely appealing actor) took a lot of heat for his role which was originally intended for a British actor. His presence changes the entire flavor of the story as it was written in the source novel, yet he comes across as endearing as ever. Paltrow (an agonizingly overrated actress and overrated beauty) looks like Carolyn Bessette Kennedy only with a rigid, showy English accent. Her attention to the accent and to what she believes her character to be results in an almost robotic portrayal and nothing resembling a human being. The Victorian couple generates both interest and romance, yet isn't given the screen time of the contemporary couple. If a STAR hadn't been placed in the modern story, maybe the focus could have been more even and the Victorian story could have been given a touch more emphasis. Still, Northam and Ehle (who bears a striking resemblance to Meryl Streep) manage to make an impact. What was apparently quite enthralling and romantic on the page has become rather routine and familiar on the screen, though there are some lovely and thoughtful moments throughout. Some of the location scenery is gorgeous (as is Eckhart.) A host of British character actors round out the cast with results ranging from strong (Headey, Stephens) to campy (Eve) to wasted (Aird, Massey.) Someone needs to inform Paltrow that an accent, a bun and a turtleneck don't provide the performance alone. Some commitment, expression, thoughtfulness and especially realism are also in order!
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6/10
A Romance with no Surprises
Claudio Carvalho26 June 2003
The first movie from Neil Labute ('In the Company of Men') was an amazing film. I dare to say that it was almost a masterpiece: black humor, splendid dialogs, original story, I love it. His next movie ('Your Friends & Neighbors') was an average black comedy and I was a little disappointed, but then, with the wonderful 'Nurse Betty', Neil Labute's prestige with me was redeemed. Possession is a romance with no surprises: since the first meeting between Maud Bailey (the beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow) and Roland Michel (Aaron Eckhart), the romance between them is very predictable. Roland Michel, an American living and working in London, finds some original documents that present a possible evidence that a married and faithful poet of the eighteenth century might have fallen in love with a lesbian poetess. Due to his research, he is introduced to Doctor Maud Bailey and as far as they go deeper and deeper in their research, they fall in love to each other. Their love increases in parallel to their findings about the passion between the poet and the poetess. The problem is not that the film is a bad movie, but being a Neil Labute's one, we would expect much more than that. I believe that other fans of Neil Labute will be also disappointed with this plot. However, viewers who love romances with a beautiful cast and landscapes may appreciate this film. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "Possessão" ("Possession")
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8/10
A Time Shift Drama That Works!
Ralph Michael Stein26 August 2002
There have been any number of films where time shifting back and forth is the plot device to tell a story. Mostly the results are mediocre or even abysmal ("Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure": it was nothing of the kind). One of my old and rarely seen favorites is "The Yellow Rolls-Royce."

More recently "The Red Violin", based on Ann Rice's novel, took viewers through several epochs as the impending auction of a magnificent violin loomed. That movie worked. And so does "Possession," also based on a novel and beautifully realized by Neil LaBute, a sensitive director with an outstanding leading cast.

Set in England with a side trip to France, "Possession" follows the path of laconic American scholar "Roland Mitchell" (Aaron Eckhardt) as he works for an eccentric Irish academic. Both specialize in nineteenth century British literature. Apparently Mitchell is still working on his Ph.D - his duties for his employer are largely of a research assistant nature.

At his master's command he goes to the British Museum to verify some data about the great poet, "Randolph Henry Ash" (come to life through Jeremy Northam). Like Professor Peter Schickele, whose fortuitous discoveries of the works of Bach's least known son, P.D.Q., Mitchell stumbles upon several handwritten pages that lead him to believe that a great mystery about the life of Ash might be solvable. Since Ash is being celebrated with exhibitions and academic convocations, this is, certainly, a good time for this Yank to delve into Ash's past.

With the pages in hand (felony larceny comes to mind as the proper acquisition designation) the adventure begins. And soon leads to "Dr. Maud Bailey" played by a luminous Gwyneth Paltrow (Ms. Paltrow is now living in London so her dialect preparation was practical as well as necessary for the film).

Bailey is a specialist on the life of poet "Christabel LaMotte" (Jennifer Ehle). She's reputed to be a tough and difficult person. Often in the academic world, that simply means the person in question is a competent woman. As Bailey and Mitchell deepen their investigation the inevitable but well-acted romantic attraction, rejection, and...well... (you can guess, can't you?) rolls to its certain ending.

The scenes shift seamlessly between the nineteenth century poets and the twenty-first century academic sleuths. Career opportunities, acclaim, lionization by a small coterie of academics in very narrow fields await those who first publish new discoveries. In a real world where many consider weaponizing pathogens to be the true meaningful work of the academy, it's nice to see that a love of literature and an insatiable desire to learn about those whose writings remain cherished can be the focus of a fine film.

Of course there are scurrilous academics afoot - an arrogant American and his toady English assistant - who are sniffing at the trail left by Mitchell and Bailey. The extremes they go to are silly, even funny but NOT implausible. What is very silly are the recurrent anti-American comments that go beyond humor and make me wonder what the script writer's experiences here have been.

Maud and Roland seem real, and so are Christabel and Henry, because their doubts and passions aren't of the exaggerated variety that Masterpiece Theater regularly plucks from English literature or that Merchant/Ivory immortalizes. Each couple in real life would understand the lives and fears of their opposite pairing.

I'm not quite sure why the song "Posseso" accompanies the end credits. In any event I don't understand Italian beyond menu and cookbook so I have little idea what it's about.

9/10.
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4/10
Interesting story spoiled by bad acting and dialogue
snake7717 February 2003
The real question is this: If a director infamous for making bad films finally makes one that's sorta OK, does he deserve rich praise? My answer is no. Possession was meant to be two movies, which it is. Unfortunately director Neil LaBute managed to only make only one of those movies worth watching. Set in the present with flashbacks to the 19th century, the film is about two literary experts with a love of Victorian poetry who discover a shocking secret about a revered 19th century poet. The "period" portion of the film is excellent, mainly due to some uncharacteristically good directing by LaBute and excellent acting by Jennifer Ehle and the always great Jeremy Northham (if there was any justice this guy would be a major star).

Sadly the modern day characters are not played by actors of such caliber. Gwyneth Paltrow I suppose should be given credit for being occasionally OK, but Neil LaBute cohort Aaron Eckhart was a positively disastrous choice to play the lead. He clearly had no insight into a character who is supposed to be this sophisticated, and instead played him as a stereotypically cartoonish American male slob who inexplicably loves English poetry (and is a scholar to boot!) Add in some truly bad writing, dialogue and a screenplay that suffers from logic gaps and you've got a frustrating movie that might have been good but ultimately isn't. You'll be laughing at all the wrong parts.
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7/10
Not the Novel, But Enjoyable on Its Own Terms
evanston_dad29 November 2008
The supremely literary and ambitious novel by A.S. Byatt has been streamlined into a more conventional love story for two beautiful Hollywood actors in this screen adaptation directed by (of all people!) Neil LaBute.

Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow play scholars of a Victorian poet and poetess, respectively, who discover that their two subjects were romantically involved and find themselves in a race with rival scholars to prove it and change the face of scholarship forever. The film intercuts modern-day scenes of Eckhart and Paltrow falling cautiously in love with flashbacks to the two poets, played by Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle. I found this literal and conventional approach to be the film's biggest failing, and couldn't help but think how much more interesting the film might have been if we had never seen actual reconstructions of the past and were left to visualize it along with the two scholars. However, to be fair, I don't know how that could have been done cinematically, so it seems churlish to hold the writer and director of the film to task for not doing it.

Lovers of the book will undoubtedly find much to criticize in the film, as it leaves much plot and several characters out entirely, and is more interested in intrigues romantic than literary, but I thought it was decent. Eckhart is an extremely likable actor, and Paltrow is well cast, if a bit too conventionally beautiful for the role, and the two have quite a bit of chemistry. If one insists on holding the film to the same standards as the novel, it's bound to pale in comparison, but taken on its own terms, the movie is quite enjoyable.

Grade: B+
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8/10
Great Casting, Great Acting
Bob-4525 June 2004
POSSESSION is not the kind of movie I usually like, my wife less so. Nonetheless, we were immediately taken in by this story, which could have been a bore in less experienced hands. Gwyneth Paltrow once again proves she is the finest actress of her generation. It's an honor to watch her, particularly this carefully nuanced performance. I was enchanted by all the performances, TWO FOR THE ROAD style directing and editing, lush locales, gorgeous cinematography and music. The final act stumbles slightly; not enough of the 19th Century story is explored and the modern story is muddled by a needless subplot, which includes grave robbing. Even the modern climax is somewhat underwealming. However the climax of the 19th Century story is supremely satisfying, and it makes up the last few scenes of the film.

Highly recommended. I give POSSESSION an "8".
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great ending!
moviefan2003va23 December 2003
The ending made up for any flaws this movie had. It made me smile as a viewer. Overall it's a good movie. This is a fine cast. The chemistry between Northam and Ehle was magnificent to say the least. You wanted the movie to just remain with them. Eckhart and Paltrow are fine in their roles. Eckhart is effective in his role although I do understand some people's ire that his character was made into an American. If the intent was to convey that he was an outsider who goes against convention and dares to think of things differently, then I think he was still effective and convincing. Presenting him a foreigner would only reinforce this intention. Paltrow is not bad in her role but I think this is where there is an argument that an actual British actress would have been more effective (i.e. someone like Kate Beckinsale, Rachel Weisz, Catherine Keener, or Emily Mortimer who all have the distinction of having attended prestigious British universities like Oxford and Cambridge) in making the character more complex so we could truly understand the psychology of an ice cold British, female academic. Besides having a British accent which Paltrow seems to do well, the part required an understanding of the woman's psyche that I'm not sure I fully understood. Despite being an American from Texas, Renee Zellweger did this well in Bridget Jones' Diary, although her accent was a bit posh for the character. This is my only criticism of a movie that was still good overall.
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9/10
touching story
Krazykathy544 July 2003
I loved this movie. I found it interesting how the story was merged between the two time periods and couples. All four characters are easy on the eyes. The scenery was breathtaking. The ending without giving it away, touched my heart. Randolph Ash's discovery was so bittersweet yet beautiful.
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pleasant and charming
dainty_cates19 March 2003
I've had a copy of this movie lying around for a couple of months and have never really gotten around to it primarily due to my love-hate feelings of Gwyneth Paltrow's movie choices. I was sure this would be another one of those cases where no more than 15 minutes into the movie I'd be way too put-off by her performance to want to finish it. However, I was sorely mistaken. "Possession" turned out to be a pleasantly charming surprise and I would recommend it to anyone who likes small, romantic films that are both witty and filled with lovey-dovey will-they or wont-they stuff. Paltrow and Eckhart are great and though the plot is pretty predictable, it never keeps you from really enjoying this picture. Neil LaBute has made a small gem. English majors especially will enjoy this pic. Coming from a harsh Gwyneth critic, this recommendation is well earned.

8/10
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10/10
AMAZING movie full of PASSION
hdtv0029 December 2002
My god this movie was incredible.I can not believe this movie had more passion in it than every movie combined for the whole year.If you want a love story full of pure passion this is your ticket.I just hope none of my guy friends read this review lol.
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10/10
Enjoyment is in the Details
-20810 March 2003
A grand movie - made me think of the French Lieutenant's Woman - had some of the same artifices with time shifting - and they worked as well now as they did then. I've not read the book so I do not have the need for the movie to live-up to my expectations. Also, I've only seen 2 of Mr. LeBute's previous movies - Nurse Betty, which I thought was okay, and Your Friends and Neighbors, which I did not think was okay - so I was surprised when I was enchanted by this movie. (Perhaps I need to give his other movies another look.) Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart were beautiful to look at and enjoyable to listen to, and made the impossible task of reading letters on screen seem easy - and interesting. And I'd watch anything Jeremy Notham is in at least once, and some I've watched a good many times more than once. But, in the final analysis, the movie belongs to Jennifer Ehle, whom I'd never seen before. An amazing performance in an amazing part. And the scene with her back to the camera and her long red braid hanging down her back is worth the price of admission alone. Ashe was a lucky man indeed.
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1/10
One of the worst film adaptations I've seen in a long time
peb-225 August 2002
Words cannot capture the sadness I feel that this film has robbed me of two hours of my life.

It is almost impossible to say which part of the film is the worst, since screenplay, direction, and performances are all so reprehensibly bad. There are so many laughable plot turns that I'm not sure if this screenplay was even proofread by someone with any distance. The catalyst for the film's intrigue, a couple of stolen letters that one of our protagonists pilfers from a rare books library, is only the first of many weak moments that in the transition from text to screen lose any plausibility. Someone should have bothered to go into a manuscript and rare book archive to see what stealing from one of these institutions would really be like.

I'm actually quite a fan of A.S. Byatt, whose novel is the original source material for this drivel. Possession as a novel is fun, but seriously flawed--When transferred to the screen by an underwhelming cast and crew, though, those flaws become insurmountable obstacles. Any subtleties in the novel's juxtaposition of the two relationships disappear, replaced by the lumbering cliches that permeate the dialogue.

David Henry Hwang is a fine writer for the stage, but forays into film have more often than not proven that he has not quite mastered the celluloid--it just isn't his medium. Rather than transferring the novel's richness to the screen, he has attached himself religiously to it's rickety frame, certainly not its most successful characteristic. Gwyneth Paltrow's British accent is, as usual, just shy of being believable. Both Paltrow's Maude and Aaron Eckhart's Roland are barely cardboard cutouts rather than characters, and the actors do little to flesh them out. Poor Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle, two fine actors, are squandered in the Victorian scenes where they barely have enough material to establish mood.

As for the representation of academic life, it's more than a little absurd, which is actually fine with me since academic life is even more absurd than this film could hope to capture.

Overall, I was terribly disappointed, since I was hoping this would be good candy for the academic set.
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4/10
Sterile Romance
moviesleuth226 December 2009
Stories that center on relationships (such as romances or character studies) must be developed carefully and delicately. Done right, they can be fascinating to watch. Done poorly, they can quickly become boring. Unfortunately, despite it's acclaimed art-house director and cast of well-known actors, "Posession" falls firmly into the latter category.

A graduate student of Victorian-era poetry named Roland Mitchell (Aaron Eckhart) has stumbled onto a potentially fascinating discovery: two famous poets, Howard Ash (Jeremy Northam) and Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle) may actually have been lovers. Now Roland, along with another expert, Dr. Maude Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow) are on their trail. Along the way, they are developing a romance between themselves.

"Posession" does more things wrong than it does right. The biggest problem is the underlying story. I haven't read the novel by A.S. Byatt, but judging by the film, there isn't much story to begin with, certainly not enough for a 102 minute film (and it's not especially interesting). Either that, or the screenplay is worse than it already is. Plot holes abound, subplots are started and left unfinished, and more importantly, there's no balance between the dual tales.

The performances by the actors don't help much. Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart are the biggest names in the cast, but unfortunately they're the ones we have to spend the most time with. Both are good actors (Paltrow won an Oscar, though undeservedly, and judging by Eckhart's climb to fame and versatility, it's only a matter of time before he gets a statue), but they have no chemistry. At least Eckhart, a Neil LaBute regular, makes a game try. That's more than can be said for his co-star, Gwyneth Paltrow. I've never been a big fan of Paltrow; she's always a little whiny and seems off. She can muster a decent British accent, but that's only the surface. As Maude, she's pretty boring, and for someone whose sudden romance is the unofficial beating heart of the film, she has no chemistry with Eckhart. The 1850's lovers, Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle, aren't exactly better, but they have chemistry, which makes them more appealing.

The film isn't a total loss; it looks great, and I always have a special place in my heart for historical mysteries (even poorly done ones). But honestly, "Posession" isn't worth your time.
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Avoid at all cost
Katie6 June 2005
When you have watched so many good English period dramas, this one really astounds you with its dreadfulness.Byatt must be fuming.There is a total absence of true English character in this most English of books,we have only a few glimpses of priggish people who say "old chap".

The director really should have spent more time in England before making this film, he might have learnt something of the wit,intelligence and subtly that makes English films so terrific.

The highly overrated Gwenyth attempts her own version of the English reserve as Maud ,but manages to do it in such an unoriginal and obvious way that she should have just stuck a sign on her head that read "repressed English person with a clip folder".

Lebule uses the revolutionary metaphor of Maud taking her hair out of a pony to signify her final release from rigidness.One can only conclude that he has been watching to many American sitcoms where the librarian takes of her glasses and unties her bun and begins her rolling love affair.

This film really gave me a greater appreciation of actresses like Emma Thompson who plays a 'maudesque' character in sense & sensibility but does it with so much more insight and orginality.
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Director Should be Busted for Illicit Possession of a Script
ahunter316 December 2003
Having both read A. S. Byatt's Possession, the girlfriend & I were looking forward to watching the DVD.

Unfortunately, someone (presumably director Neil LaBute) decided that it would make a better movie if Roland were recast as (this is how he put it in the fragment of "director's comments" that I glanced at) "a brash American...to give the movie more 'spark'".

That's like casting Pee Wee Herman in the lead role of Conan the Barbarian ("we thought his manic antics would lend new energy to the role").

Aaron Eckhart mugs and smirks his way through the whole movie, apparently under the impression that he's Harrison Ford in a remake of Star Wars and Professor Maud Baily is spoiled Princess Leia. Or perhaps Humphrey Bogart to her Hepburn in an English-lit African Queen.

What a pathetic waste of an opportunity. The book was, if not unreservedly great, entirely fresh and entertaining. There was plenty of "spark" between Roland Michell, -- the research assistant so immersed in Randolph Ash, and subsequently in the romance between Ash and Cristabel LaMotte, and so tentative about asserting his own self -- and Bailey, the established professor ensconced in a literary and gender studies post and formidably arrayed in poststructuralist feminist semiotics. First Roland and then Maud are swept up in the romance of Ash and LaMotte's liaisons, and it brings the former out of the shadows of his studies and the latter out from behind the protections of her analyses. Roland does not crack the shell of an ivory-tower Maud with a stiff back and a crisp demeanor with his raunchy worldliness --that's somebody else's story. Maud comes out, lured into a less safe and more vulnerable position, by the intoxication of passion and possibility, and precisely because Roland is not abrasive and full of himself and inclined to be a threat in her space, as his colleage and her former lover, Fergus Wolff, had been. And Roland comes out, himself, daring to express, to reach out, lured by the fascinating combination of Maud's carefully maintained self-sufficiency and the possibility of touching her nevertheless.

The movie, on the other hand... well, it's not entirely a bad story, I suppose, it's just so totally not the same story. Nor is it anywhere near as interesting, as stories of its ilk (brash male whatever gets to and loosens up crisp and somewhat uptight female whatever) have been done so many times before, and better.
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1/10
Hackneyed and unsubtle lust
MetaLark16 May 2003
Jennifer Ehle was sparkling in "Pride and Prejudice." Jeremy Northam was simply wonderful in "The Winslow Boy." With actors of this caliber, this film had to have a lot going for it. Even those who were critical of the movie spoke of the wonderful sequences involving these two. I was eager to see it.

It is with bitter disappointment, however, that I must report that this flick is a piece of trash. The scenes between Ehle and Northam had no depth or tenderness or real passion; they consisted of hackneyed and unsubtle latter-day cinematic lust--voracious open-mouthed kissing and soft-porn humping. Lust can be entertaining if it's done with originality; this was tasteless and awful.

Ehle and Northam have sullied their craft; they should be ashamed.

As for the modern part of the romance, I was unnerved by the effeminate appearance of the male lead. Aren't there any masculine men left in Hollywood?

The plot was kind of interesting; with a better script and a more imaginative director, it might have worked.

1/10
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2/10
gutted...
rilister28 September 2002
-yup, a gutted, or more accurately, lobotomised version of the book. So many compromises have been made to get this richly textured novel onto the screen that where the book interwove the stories in a fascinating counterpoint, convincing in voice and detail, the film is simply a bog-standard romance between good-looking actors with some pretty victorian stuff tacked on.

You have wonder about the wisdom of even attempting to convert a book which is powerful tribute to the power of words and language and turning into a would-be powerful tribute to Gwyneth Paltrow. To paraphrase the famous quote, making a movie about words and language is something like a dancing about architecture.

The second largest flaw is that Aaron Eckhart is woefully miscast, leaving a character floundering in a story where he no longer makes any sense. I'm not sure if he normally delivers his lines in such a clunkingly flat way, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I'm not against adding American elements to a story to make it work commercial - it worked very well in High Fidelity, for example, but Roland's transatlantic transposition leaves all the other characters constantly having to react to his incongruous American-ness - he simply doesn't fit into the character in the novel.

In addition, several *important* characters have been removed, leaving gaps in the narrative - obvious ones - Roland's previous girlfriend for example. Roland explains his singledom as he is simply "off relationships", but never gives any kind of convincing back story to the motivation for this. Strange gaps like this make the main characters seem one-dimensional and adrift in a plot that has to rattle through events which are barely explained by what we see on the screen.

I have to admit, I was bored rigid and couldn't wait for the film to finish. I can't see how anyone could take much out of such an obviously compromised film, unless they're a Merchant-Ivory fanatic and love any old nonsense with Victorian frills.
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1/10
A terrible movie that is convinced of its greatness.
theo69226 August 2002
The beautiful country-side and the costumes are perhaps the only thing to recommend this movie. There is no identifiable chemistry between Ms. Paltro and Mr. Eckhart's characters – less even, than was found in Attack of the Clones. Somehow (like in AOTC), we discover that these two are deeply in love and are willing to risk their lives (or at least mail theft and other petty crimes) to be with one another. The story seems to have left the best parts on the cutting room floor (I'm making assumptions here because the characters are flat, the story thin, and the pace slow).

Ms. Paltro gets along well, but it's difficult to imagine that she accepted this role (perhaps she is a fan of the book and was hoodwinked).
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