Possession Review

Director: Neil LaBute
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle.
102 mins, Cert 12

Aaron Eckhart plays American graduate student Roland Michell, researching the life of Randolph Henry Ash a fictional Victorian poet laureate played in flashback by Jeremy Northam. When Michell discovers an unfinished letter from Ash to poet Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle) he sets out to discover the truth of their hitherto unknown romance, a significant find considering the fame of this nineteenth century poet. He enlists the aid of gender-studies professor and LaMotte expert Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow) and the pair set out to discover the truth of this Victorian affair.

The movie cuts between the illicit romance of Ash and LaMotte, conducted principally in epistolary fashion, and the growing warmth between Bailey and Michell. Neil LaBute’s film doesn’t play the traditional game of making parallels between the two romances. The modern relationship centres on the character’s own past hurts and reluctance to be hurt again. The Victorian romance struggles due to Ash being married and LaMotte’s relationship with another woman.

Possession is at its best when the action moves to the rugged yet beautiful Yorkshire landscape, it being the perfect setting for romance, heartache and sadness. Here there is a sense of passion but also of loss, but that love is worth the heartaches and the pain no matter the cost. The thoroughly modern but natural interplay between Paltrow and Eckhart contrasts beautifully with the restrained passion of the Victorian poets.

There are problems. The Victorian drama is not explored fully due to time constraints and so the detective work seems a little too easy as the plot rushes through the lives of the long dead poets. A subplot featuring rival researchers feels increasingly tagged on as the movie reaches a conclusion. However the acting is first rate, especially from Paltrow, who is convincing as the initially icy British academic.

While Possession may be billed as a romance, it is much more than that. It’s a film about overcoming obstacles within ourselves and our lives for the sake of love. There is sadness here but also a sense of triumph, that love lives on within those we leave behind, whether lovers or our children. Not a flawless movie, but one to heartily recommend to those who might seek a movie about romance that is anything but a chic flick.