Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary from director Neil
ACCLAIMED director, Neil Labute, opts for a more romantic approach
to his latest take on sexual politics, taking on AS Byatts
Booker Prize-winning novel, Possession, about two academics who
fall in love while investigating a Victorian poet laureates
undiscovered affair with a lesbian.
And while the result makes for an intriguing cinema excursion,
the movie sometimes feels laboured and a little too uptight to
really work as one of the great Big Screen romances; even when
there are two going on at the same time!
LaBute regular, Aaron Eckhart stars as American scholar, Roland
Michell, who unwittingly discovers a literary goldmine of adulterous
love-letters, written by poet laureate, Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy
Northam) to fellow poet, Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle), and
teams up with Gwyneth Paltrows brilliant English academic,
Maud Bailey, to find out more.
The ensuing investigation takes the pair across England and to
the Continent and forces them to confront their own anxieties
about love, as set against the backdrop of Ashs affair with
LaMotte (told in flashback).
Yet while the ensuing tale is well acted and nicely directed,
the interaction between Paltrow and Eckhart fails to stir the
necessary emotions and viewers may find themselves bogged down
in the academic fumblings of the films two protagonists.
LaBute made his mark with films such as In The Company Of Men
and Your Friends and Neighbours, which took a barbed look at
the battle of the sexes and attracted acclaim for their refusal
to pull any punches. Yet with Possession, he has lost much of
his bite and feels curiously restrained by the lower certificate.
The mix of corset-busting Victorian love affair and modern
day scepticism is also likely to frustrate viewers in equal
measure, with those seeking an old-fashioned period drama likely
to become frustrated with their modern counterparts for failing
to realise the obvious, and vice versa.
Paltrow, once again, proves how adept she is at handling an
English accent, but her character is far too staid and fussy
to be sympathetic, and while Eckhart injects a great deal of
charisma into the role of Michell, he too is likely to come
under fire from fans of the novel for, quite simply, being American.
This is, after all, an English literary classic that has
been given the US treatment (in cast and director) which,
one feels, may have been better left to the BBC or - better
yet - left to the page.
That said, the romance between Northams frustrated poet
and Ehles daring LaMotte is well-observed and very nicely
played, while the movies finale refrains from being
overly sentimental and makes some intelligent points about
the tragedy of love.
Its just a shame, therefore, that the rest of LaButes
film feels so uneven.