PossessionSeptember 4, 2002
A pair of literary sleuths unearth the amorous secret of two Victorian poets only to find themselves falling under a passionate spell.
Release Year: 2002
Rating: 6.3/10 (7,952 voted)
Critic's Score: 52/100
Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam
Roland Michell is an American scholar trying to make it in the difficult world of British Academia. He has yet to break out from under his mentor's shadow until he finds a pair of love letters that once belonged to one of his idols, a famous Victorian poet. Michell, after some sleuthing, narrows down the suspects to a woman not his wife, another well known Victorian poet. Roland enlists the aid of a Dr. Maud Bailey, an expert on the life of the woman in question. Together they piece together the story of a forbidden love affair, and discover one of their own. They also find themselves in a battle to hold on to their discovery before it falls into the hands of their rival, Fergus Wolfe.
Writers: A.S. Byatt, David Henry Hwang
Randolph Henry Ash
The past will connect them. The passion will possess them.
Release Date: 4 September 2002
Filming Locations: Athenaeum Club, Pall Mall, St. James's, London, England, UK
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $1,575,214
(18 August 2002)
(13 October 2002)
Did You Know?
A large part of Church Street in Whitby was dressed to give it the appearance of a 18/19th century fishing town. Gwyneth Paltrow insisted that the whole place was screened off so that she was not visible to the small crowd of on-lookers. Jeremy Northam, however, took time to go and talk about the film to the bystanders. Miss Paltrow also turned down an offer from the local dignitaries to meet the mayor and be shown around the town. The Whitby Gazette carried a massive banner headline declaring "PALTROW SNUBS WHITBY".
Everyone was handling rare, old documents with their bare hands. Anyone doing this kind of research would know to wear gloves to protect the fragile paper.
They say that women change: 'tis so: but you are ever-constant in your changefulness, like that still thread of falling river, one from source to last embrace in the still pool ever-renewed and ever-moving on from first to last a myriad water-drops.
unusual and intriguing romantic drama
`Possession' has all the intricacy, mystery and suspense of a classic
of detective fiction. What sets this film apart, however, is that the
object of the mystery does not involve a dead body, a piece of stolen
treasure or a missing person, but rather the hitherto secret love affair
between two well-known 19th Century English poets. The clues come in the
form of journal entries, love letters and snippets of enigmatic poetry
when pieced together, afford a glimpse into the inner yearnings of these
young, but essentially unrequited lovers.
As a narrative, `Possession' runs on two parallel tracks, one set in
times (that's where the detective story aspect comes in) and the other set
in 1859, as we learn the details of the romance that took place between
writers. In the contemporary plot strand, Aaron Eckhart stars as Roland
Michell, a handsome young American research assistant who has come to
England to study the work of famed poet Randolph Henry Ash, a writer with
certain misogynistic strain who nevertheless enjoys the rather unique
reputation among poets of having been utterly faithful to his wife. As
story begins, Ash has become something of a cause celebre within British
literary circles because the year 2000 happens to mark the centenary of
discovery of his work. While poring over a first edition copy of one of
Ash's volumes, Roland stumbles across some original letters of Ash's that
hint at the possibility that Ash, contrary to the public impression of his
marital fidelity, may actually have had an affair with another famed poet
the time, a Miss Christabel La Motte, a woman believed by her biographers
have been a lesbian. Confronted with this startling, revolutionary and,
perhaps, priceless piece of information, Roland sets out to unravel the
mystery, accompanied by Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), an expert on the
and work of Miss LaMotte (and a distant descendant of that famed poet in
`Possession' earns points automatically simply by providing us with a
storyline and a fascinating glimpse into a world we have rarely if ever
portrayed on screen – the world of literary investigation. We are
fascinated by all the behind-the-scene details showing not merely the
investigative footwork that goes into unearthing the biographical details
a writer's life, but also the sometimes-cutthroat nature that propels
investigators to both make and publish their discoveries, even if that
utilizing tactics that can be described as, at best, unethical, and, at
But `Possession' offers more than just that. It also manages to provide
merely one, but two complex romances occurring at the same time (though a
full century apart in the context of the story). Randolph and Christabel
are both products – and victims – of their Victorian Era morality, yet at
the same time, their struggles are universal in nature and neatly
to those experienced by Roland and Maud, who literally follow in the
footsteps of the earlier couple. As our modern day investigators travel
same route through England that Randolph and Christabel took a century
previous, Roland and Maud reveal much about their own inability to make
commitments in the face of possible true love. As they tentatively grope
towards one another, then back away out of fear of pain and rejection,
Roland and Maud define, in many ways, the métier of modern romantic
coupling. Yet, we discover, through Randolph and Christabel, that life in
the past really wasn't much different from what it is today.
Based on the novel by A.S. Byatt, the David Henry Hwang/Laura Jones/Neil
LaBute screenplay provides highly charged scenes between our two romantic
couples, particular those involving Roland and Maud. The dialogue in
encounters is often sharp, intelligent, incisive. The romantic moments
between Raymond and Christabel have a slightly more conventional feel to
them, but they, too, often ring true in a way that is both deeply moving
strangely exciting. Director LaBute has drawn wonderful performances out
his quartet of first-rate actors. Aaron Eckhart as Roland and Jennifer
as Christabel are particularly effective in their roles.
It's refreshing to see a romantic drama that manages to generate some
chemistry between its two on-screen lovers. In the case of `Possession,'
our pleasure is thereby doubled, since the film accomplishes this with not
merely one couple but two. `Possession' may not provide the blood, gore,
corpses and hair-raising thrills one usually associates with detective
fiction, but its devotion to the drama found in words, poetry, language
romance makes for no less an engrossing experience.