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Possession (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary from director Neil LaBute; Trailer.

ACCLAIMED director, Neil Labute, opts for a more romantic approach to his latest take on sexual politics, taking on AS Byatt’s Booker Prize-winning novel, Possession, about two academics who fall in love while investigating a Victorian poet laureate’s 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 Paltrow’s 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 Ash’s 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 film’s 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 Northam’s frustrated poet and Ehle’s daring LaMotte is well-observed and very nicely played, while the movie’s finale refrains from being overly sentimental and makes some intelligent points about the tragedy of love.

It’s just a shame, therefore, that the rest of LaBute’s film feels so uneven.

 

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