Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Northam
Directed by: Neil LaBute
Novel: A.S. Byatt
Screenplay: David Henry Hwang, Laura Jones and Neil LaBute
is one of the most romantic films I've ever seen
up there with The English Patient though not quite a Casablanca
or an End of the Affair.
on A.S. Byatt's sprawling novel, Possession is a touching
sleuth piece about lost letters, forbidden love, and social acceptabilities.
Now for the screen adapter/screenwriters David Henry Hwang, Laura
Jones and LaBute have woven a yarn rich in enchantment yet strangely
realistic considering the subject matter.
LaBute has taken this nearly impeccable script and put in place
a perfect crew, sprinkled it with a precise cast, which together,
manage to deliciously paint the screen as Possession seamlessly
swings to and fro from present to past telling two tales at once;
one from a century ago and one fixed in today's relationship dramas.
yes I said Neil LaBute. That Neil Labute - Your
Friends and Neighbors and In The Company of Men
- LaBute. Sure, LaBute's infamous for making men look like testosterone
infused rabid frothing sex pigs in his films but with Possession
he actually turns himself around a tad and creates two incredible
male characters not only likable but charming and addictive.
is Roland Mitchell an American in London who is interning at a
swanky British museum filled with cavernous crevices and the permeating
sounds of "shhhh. " Roland is played by LaBute regular,
studly Aaron Eckhart. He's a completely warm and open character
at once familiar and unapologetic for his bursting personality
and enthusiasm for life; decidedly unBritish in demeanor.
there's Randolph Henry Ash, a long deceased Victorian era lover's
poet who happens to be the museum's subject matter this season
on his centennial celebration. Ash is played by the object of
my affection, that leading man that looks as if he's from yesteryear,
uber handsome talent Jeremy Northam. With Roland and Randolph,
Mr. "Show The Worst In Men" LaBute has created two deep
thoughtful men that are honest with women concerned about expressing
themselves and open (mostly) with their adoration. It's a fairy
tale of sorts you see.
women are just as well written. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Ehle
who play the gals to the beaus of different eras are into. They
are two strong fragile believable women. Don't worry LaBute fans
he's still as subtly cynical as ever and has his screenplay riddled
with razor sharp dialog, he's just stepped into a less pimple
showing world and managed to create a extraordinary romantic piece
with his signature flares of truths.
goes Roland Mitchell is in London for a brief fellowship (he's
an intern) at the great British Museum. It's the centennial of
British love poet Randolph Henry Ash and he's been placed in charged
of menial tasks like what did Ash's beloved wife serve for guests
in 1859. While reading up in one the oodles of books Ash left
behind, Roland discovers two handwritten notes from Ash to a woman
corresponding with a woman? He was supposed to be this pillar
of society and an adoring faithful husband. Figures. If the letter
means what they seem to mean, history books will have to tell
a much raunchier tale. This is a big discovery. Like finding Beethoven
held a Harem or something - fun frivolous historical gossip that
would make an ancient Enquirer giddy with each word.
must figure out who this woman was and if was truly an 'affair'
between the two as the letters' descriptive tones and seductive
follows his hunches to a feminist poet of Ash's era, Christabel
LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle). Well to Christabel's official historian,
Maude Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow). Maude's a bit of a stuffed shirt
with a side of starch. She dismisses Roland's ludicrous letters
and insinuations for several reasons. But when they learn that
Ash and LaMotte did indeed meet and chat at a swanky dinner function
of the elite in late 1859 she too is intrigued enough to assist
the dreamy eyed American. She's stuffy but not stupid and realizes
how this would affect history if Christabel and his Randolph were
indeed going rabid Rhesus monkey in the days of old.
Passion possesses the two as they follow in the doomed couple's
trail of intrigue, slowly discovering ancient truths that had
been long forgotten....or buried.
the story sounds like a seventy-nine cent romance novel that you
read while standing at the checkout. But it is not. Possession
manages to remain firmly realistic even while dipping into extreme
romantic settings riddled with feather pens, gothic backdrops,
evanescent waterfalls and ruffled petticoats. Why does it work
so well? Simple. LaBute knows people. He can create a whole
being on paper; not always the nicest of folks as we LaBute fans
know; but yet so complete with minute idiosyncrasies and great
dialogs rich with truth. I can't recall ever being disappointed
by his work and here is no exception. Just a beautiful captivating
Eckhart is morphing into pure grade A mansteak gals. He's
always been a tad cute but here he's simply delectable. Partly
because he's not playing his usual LaBute as***** and partly because
he is just such an immense talent. He's an American treasure really.
In Possession Aar's Roland (unlike his past LaBute characters)
is actually a normal respectable guy with no big hang ups
(well none that aren't workable), no hatred for the softer sex,
he's genuinely sweet and he's got an amazing personality mixed
in to the fantasy. Wrap him up I'll take him! Eckhart also shows
his comic timing is as honed as his dramatic instrument. A brilliant
Paltrow is perfect as the quiet fierce bookworm with and undercurrent
of passion. I enjoy her choices. In The
Royal Tennenbaums she truly proved her range. She can
handle anything. Hell, I even liked Bounce.
Northam is by far one of the most exciting actors in films
today. He disappears into a role so completely one has to do a
double take to be sure it's him. He's in everything
Park (singing no less...be still my pounding heart) Enigma,
Winslow Boy etc
etc. Notice a trend? Yeah, he's usually
all studmuffined up in 'period' clothing. He's done a few thoroughly
modern Milton roles but he apparently understands he looks as
if he's accidentally stepped into a portal of time travel and
made it to this era and relishes in the roles of his "look."
And to say Jeremy's looks are breath taking is an understatement.
He's as sweet on the retina as a double stack of home made flapjacks
drizzled with warm sticky maple syrup oozing from his manly pores...several
helpings would be in order - if you know what I mean...
out the impeccable cast is Jennifer Ehle. Another wonderful British
import. Jen's a mainstay in London theater flexing her celluloid
muscles. She's a radiant actor to say the least. I remember her
from Sunshine with Studasnarus Rex Ralph
Fiennes. She sparkled there too. Though not too frequent on
the screen if you look for her name in the cast you shouldn't
be disappointed, provided you enjoy drama.
Possession is fabulous. It is a rare truly romantic film
that doubles, oddly enough, as a twisting mystery. The cast, direction,
set design, cinematography, seamless editing, script, and soundtrack
will treat you to a very special trip to the theater. Find this
Snack recommendation: Cucumber sandwiches and tea.
Blunt Interview with Jeremy Northam - though unrelated to
the film still a hoot!