A.S. Byatt's Booker Prize-winning novel Possession is a heady mix of poetry, love letters, fairy tales, diary pages, and bits of criticism and theory purely literary stuff that's always the first to go whenever a book is adapted for the screen. Unfortunately, as this thin and entirely ill-conceived adaptation from director Neil LaBute demonstrates, that stuff happens to be the lifeblood of Byatt's wonderful book. Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) is a scruffy American student of Victorian poetry toiling at the British Museum as a research assistant to Professor Blackadder (Tom Hickey), one of the leading authorities on the 19th-century English poet Randolph Henry Ash. One afternoon while leafing through one of Ash's Latin texts in the London Library, Roland makes a fascinating discovery: two drafts of what appear to be love letters written by Ash to a woman whom Roland soon deduces to be the Victorian poet Christabel LaMotte. Proving that the two poets even knew each other would be an important enough contribution to Ash scholarship; confirming that the very married Ash carried on a secret affair with LaMotte who, feminist critics have been quick to claim, was gay would occasion a fundamental rethinking of both writers, and make Roland's career. Behaving more like a scandal-monger than an academic, Roland nicks the letters and takes them to chilly gender studies scholar Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), an expert on LaMotte who also happens to be a distant relation. Intrigued, Maud defrosts enough to suggest a trip to Seal Hall, the crumbling estate where LaMotte lived out the last 20 years of her life, and there Maud and Roland make an even more momentous discovery: two piles of carefully hidden letters the correspondence between Christabel LaMotte and her lover, Randolph Henry Ash. As Maud and Roland attempt to reconstruct their clandestine affair by retracing the lovers' paths across Britain and France, the film flashes back to the 19th century to find Ash (Jeremy Northam) and LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle) mooning about Victorian England, overcoming their scruples and finally declaring their love. Our scholars inevitably follow suit. Aside from providing further evidence of just what unhappiness male-female relationships can lead to, it's hard to see what attracted the writer-director of YOUR FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS to Byatt's book. It's a bad fit all around. Paltrow tries to get into the swing of things, but she's too young and Maud comes off as immature. Eckhart is even less persuasive. Gruff and unshaven, he crashes through it all like Indiana Jones with something to prove: Poesy ain't for pansies.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: A.S. Byatt's Booker Prize-winning novel Possession is a heady mix of poetry, love letters, fairy tales, diary pages, and bits of criticism and theory purely literary stuff that's always the first to go whenever a book is adapted for the screen. Unfo… (more)