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"Possession" is one of the most romantic movies I have ever seen, alongside Tom Tykwer's "Heaven." A double-edged tale of love, passion, and words that can entice or betray, this is one of the few masterful films that actually brought tears to my eyes. Wonderful acting, beautiful direction, and one of the most amazing love stories ever seen in a movie.
Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart), a brash young American scholar, is studying an old book of the famed poet William Randolph Ash when he encounters an old love letter. After some digging, he theorizes that it was addressed to the more obscure poet Christabel LaMonte -- but both poets were either married or in a long-term relationship. If he's right, it would rock the literary world. He seeks the help of Maud Bailey, a cold feminist scholar who has a particular fondness for Christabel's work. Maud tries to bring him down to earth by explaining that Christabel was a lesbian, but Roland is undaunted.
They travel to Christabel's old home and unearth a cache of letters between Ash and Christabel, hidden away by her lover. It tells of a love affair that was doomed from the start: The correspondence first inspired respect, then friendship, then a burning love. Finally, Ash (Jeremy Northam) and Christabel (Jennifer Ehle) escape to the countryside for a few weeks alone. Those few weeks will mar the rest of their lives...
Like all adaptations, "Possession" strays a bit from its original work (Roland is made American rather than English, many supporting characters are omitted). But the spirit and tone of the story are close to the book. The core of the story is words. Words that are hidden and words that reveal, words that could change a person's life or perceptions -- depending on whether they are read by the one they are intended for. Even the name of a little child can change a man's life, and his perception of the woman he loves.
But more than that, it's an illustration of love in its different forms: There is the passion of the soulmates, Ash and Christabel; and there is the gradual warming and closeness between Maud and Roland. As Randolph Ash says, "There are many kinds of love." Even though the modern love story is okay by movie standards, it's pale and insubstantial compared to the Victorian love story. (Maybe this is because Maud and Roland have the POSSIBILITY of a deep attachment, whereas Ash and Christabel have full-fledged, undeniable feelings). This film isn't afraid to show love in all its glory and beauty, its pain and intensity.
The direction is beautiful and stately, with the shots of waterfalls and majestic old houses. And Neil LaBute is amazing at choreographing little hints of tension and attraction. He handles the shifting from one era to another expertly; one wonderful scene pans away from Maud and Roland, to rest on Christabel.
Aaron Eckhart does a solid job as Roland; he's pretty charming and twinkly-eyed, but not outstanding. Gwyneth Paltrow has a little trouble making Maud sympathetic, but she manages it (sort of). It's Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle who steal the show. They radiate emotion, so much so that merely glancing at one another has significance and substance. Lena Heady and Holly Aird also give moving, if brief, performances as Blanche Glover (Christabel's ex-lover) and Ellen Ash (Ash's wife).
This is a movie for lovers and true romantics, those who can appreciate the beauty of the love story. While not perfect, it's a haunting and beautiful story, one of the most moving romantic movies I've ever seen. Highly recommended.
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on August 22, 2004
I must disagree with the scathing reviews I have read here. I have become very jaded with movies...a long line of endless clones blending together. This movie stood out from the crowd!

I was totally captivated and am throughly enchanted each time I watch it. I love the skillful way in which the producer entertwined the past with the present. It was as though the past love affair had transcended time to envelope the modern couple. They recognized the love of the past couple and came to experience it themselves.

I could feel how spellbound the modern couple was in discovering the details of the past, and how it affected them as a couple falling in love. The way the new loves went to the same places and viewed the same scenery with the same awe was very well done. You could sense them moving through the same stages of their love affair, although their circumstances were different.

I disagree that the modern couple was not perfectly cast.

They were the perfect contrast and made the victorian couple all the more entralling. I found all 4 actors/actresses completely believable and perfect for the story. They all possessed a sensualness and passion that was quite palpable.

The love scenes were very tastefully done and not at all vulgar and explicit as some are these days.

The first time that I saw this movie, I found myself caught up in both romances...feeling the longing, joy, and dispair of starcrossed lovers; feeling the trepidation, yet excitement,

and overwhelming pull of the new love as they discovered not only the love of the past, but their own growing love.

I think this movie shows how love transcends time. It also shows that our lives and love impacts others sometimes in ways that we never know and lend assurance that though we are born and die, love perseveres.

I was hooked from the first moment and wasn't bored for an instant. I am now eager to read the book that inspired this movie. I commend the writer for this marvel of a story; as well as the director and actors for their portrayal of this mesmerizing story.

The scenery was breathtaking and contributed to the overall feel of sensualness and passion.

In my opinion, this movie should win all sorts of awards.

This movie is probably my favorite movie of all time. It left me feeling that although the victorian couple had only a short time together...they were always in love. The modern couple learned from that past love and didn't have the same obstacles...their love was enriched by the love of the past.
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"No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed."

While doing research in the British Museum, Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) discovers letters written by Randolph Ash who had an affair with a lesser-known poetess, Christabel LaMotte.

Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow) knows Christabel's poems by heart and Randolph seeks her out as an expert to help him figure out why a "chaste spinster" and the "married Randolph Ash" never revealed their love to the world. He has one clue, a love letter.

Christabel and Randolph's love is based on a common love of literature and intellectual discussions, poetry and passion. They are like minds that somehow connected and together they find immense happiness despite their circumstances. Although they fight their attraction to one another, they eventually create a world of turmoil and tragedy.

Gwyneth and Aaron have a subtle chemistry but it is not "quite" the mingling of spirits that occurs with Christabel (Jennifer Ehle) and Randolph (Jeremy Northam) and yet there are enough sparks to keep them interested.

"I want to see if there is an us in you and me."

Is passion worth the turmoil and upheaval? Is this the tangle most people want? While the story of the poets is only a memory, Maud and Roland are just starting their journey and are fortunately single when they meet.

Maud and Roland lurk about in divine libraries searching for clues and discover old letters and journals. They are intoxicated by the thought that they can actually solve this mystery. They must conceal their true purpose while searching for clues.

They spend time reading the letters to each other, which is the most romantic "modern" part of this movie. The Victorian "flash backs" are much more entertaining on all levels.

The Victorian romance in this movie is wonderful, but the modern romance is much more subtle. Yet, who would not want to have a man read you poetry in bed?

Adapted from A.S. Byatt's novel by the same name. The movie is not the passionate fire the name suggests. However, this movie will possess you intellectually from start to finish.

Thoughtful Romance with an element of mystery.

~The Rebecca Review
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"Possession" is one of those movies where as soon as it is over you want to go out and read the novel upon which it is based the better to be able to enjoy the full tapestry of the story. Reading A. S. Byatt's 1990 Booker Prize-winning novel would also allow you to better appreciate the adaptation by David Henry Hwang, Laura Jones and director Neil LaBute, which offers some interesting and creative approaches, both in terms of the story and how it is portrayed cinematically.
The story is essentially a romantic mystery. American Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) is working as an assistant to a literature professor in London doing research on Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam), a poet Laureate during the reign of Queen Victoria. Roland discovers some letters from Ash that suggest the poet, a paragon of devotion with regards to his wife, had a romantic relationship with Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle), a minor poet and apparent lesbian, at least according to the historical record that exists. Roland enlists Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), a English scholar who studies LaMotte, and the two begin their journey as literary detectives.
Of course a romantic relationship will develop between Roland and Maud as they are caught up in revealing the past of Randolph and Christabel. However, I have to admit that I was much more interested in the detective work unlocking the secrets of the lovers from the past than the slowly developing romance between the two scholars. Actually, I was much more interested in the romance of the two lovers in the past rather than in the present. This is not only because my academic interests are extremely sympathetic with unraveling the meaning of ancient texts, but also because the two poets have more hurdles to overcome in the romance department. After all, Eckhart and Paltrow are so good looking that their physical union is no more in doubt than their intellectual coming together. This film might actually have benefited from having less better looking leds in terms of this particular story.
LaBute gets points for the rather seamless way that he shifts back and forth between the past and the present as letters and locations allow us to slip back and forth between the two. I also have a real affection for films that still do the old trick of having stage hands move things around so that a total transformation is achieved on a set within a single panning shot back and forth. But what makes "Possession" so memorable is the powerful final scene and the haunting final shot, which is where this 2002 film achives its own sense of the poetic.
I am hard pressed to explain why I am only giving this film four stars given how much I like it; my best guess is because the film is only 102 minutes long and because this is a literary adaptation I cannot help but think this is the abridged version. There are a few deleted scenes available on the DVD, but they do not indicate anything substantial missing from the film. I also wanted to lose myself more in the story of Randolph and Christabel, and the Victorian world in which they lived. I really liked this film, but what I really wanted was to love it.
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on December 28, 2004
One of the protagonists of this movie says that "No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed". In a way, that reflects the dilemma of the main four characters in their quest for love and passion. Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) and Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), experts in English literature, discover a link between Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam) and Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle), through a letter one of them stole. As they investigate how important the link between those well-known Victorian poets was, a relationship begins to grow between them, despite the fact that neither of them was eager to start a relationship. But what are the differences between these couples?. It is easy to see that Ash and Christabel plunge into a love affair and are somehow consumed by it and its consequences. On the other hand, Ronald and Maud are so aware of the possible emotional consequences of a failed relationship that they don't want to run the risk of heartache, and thus try to avoid the "fire" that true passion involves.

As you probably already noticed, this film doesn't have one love story: it has two. One takes place in the Victorian period, and the other in our times, but both are closely linked. The question is: can a love affair from the past bring a modern couple together?. And if so, how, and why?. The plot is pretty simple, but well developed. The director (Neil LaBute) somehow managed to reflect the progress of both love stories at the same time, so the spectator cannot help but compare the way in which both relationships developed, and the conventions that were important in each time. I specially liked the role that the letters that Ash and Christabel sent each other (and that Roland and Maud discovered) played in the film. They were truly engaging, and the perfect complement for the uniformly good acting and the perfect English scenery.

On the whole, I think this is a good movie, but not a great one. It lacks that "something" that makes a viewer remember a movie well after watching it. Despite that, not all movies can be unforgettable classics. Sometimes, if they are at least a good way to pass time and relax, that is enough. In my opinion, that is the case here. If you like a good romance story with some elements of literature and poetry, try this movie: you'll have a good time :)

Belen Alcat
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on June 28, 2003
It seemed that this movie was in and out of the theaters before this gem could find its audience. No doubt it languished in the shadows of some big box-office turkey.
This movie is smart, interesting, intriguing, well-acted, well-directed...I could go on and on. I was attracted to it because of Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Northam (both who can do no wrong in my opinion). I was interested to see how Aaron Eckhart would pull off the role of an intellectual (and he does hold his own quite well) and Gwynneth Paltrow nicely underplays her character.
This is a thinking-person's movie -- as noted by other reviewers, one does need to pay attention as the clues that drive the plot are quietly revealed without much "here's a plot-point" fanfare within the script. The romance of the story stops short of making this a "chick flick" so both men and women will find this interesting and satisfying.
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on November 1, 2004
I would also like to express an opinion contrary to the majority I saw listed here. I think this is a beautifully filmed movie, with the English countryside almost existing as a supporting character. I think both the modern and the Victorian romances were played exquisitely by the characters. Gwyneth's potrayal of Maude was exactly as it should have been and she was incredibly believeable in being aloof and guarded and scared to love. I think the true jewel of the story is the Victorian romance. Both actors did a fantastic job potraying the harshness of a love affair in Victorian times. All in all a must see movie!
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VINE VOICEon November 11, 2003
I really liked the adaptation of A.S. Byatt's ANGELS AND INSECTS and I was hoping the film vertsion of A.S. Byatt's POSSESSION would be equally satisfying but it's not. The story is irresistable to English lit types like myself. One day while going through a literay archive a research assisstant finds an original letter written by a famous Victorian poet tucked between the pages of an old book. The letter is a love letter to an unknown lover which is doubly surprising since the poet was thought to have been a devoted husband. The research assistant immediately understands the importance of the letter and so he takes it with the intent of using it to determine just who the poet may have been writing to. Meanwhile the poet is the subject of a major retrospective and anything related to him is fetching high prices at auction so the letter has not only literary value but monetary value as well and so once the existence of the letter is made known intrigue soon follows it wherever it goes. This should have been a really easy movie to make because its got everything from romance to suspense. Unfortunately a bit of miscasting ruins the film right away. Aaron Eckhart is a scruffy blonde American and he is cast as a scruffy blonde American. But the role requires depth and passion for literature as well and Eckhart conveys neither. This actor also has a noted lack of passion for his co-star, Gwyneth Paltrow. This makes both actors look bad. Given a proper co-star Paltrow would have given a stellar performance but she has no one to act with. Eckhart just isn't right. Hes a good looking guy but he looks out of place in a library and he looks bored when hes next to Gwyneth and so we get bored with him. When he crosses paths with Paltrow we are supposed to believe she falls for him precisely because he's not English and so presumably has fewer hang-ups than the uptight restrained Englishmen she usually dates but on the contrary he has more hang-ups than anyone in the film. Maybe she falls for him because he is not intellectually complicated(just emotionally wounded), that would be a reasonable explanation but whatever the reason the chemistry simply is not there. It looks like Eckhart and Paltrow don't want to kiss and so its just awkward to watch them force themselves on each other for the camera. Eckhart hasn't yet learned how to convey a variety of emotions, he always has the same lackadaisical (perhaps self-absorbed) look on his scruffy face.
On the other hand, as virtually every other reviewer has noted, the Victorian love affair between the poet Randolph Ash and his lover Christobel LaMotte which we see acted out as the researchers uncover each strand of their story is very nice and convincing and satisfying. But be warned these period scenes are brief in comparison with the modern scenes. And unfortunately the very competent acting done by the period performers just makes the modern pair look all the more lost when we return to the present tense.
As an alternative to this I would suggest renting THE FRENCH LIEUTENANTS WOMAN (Meryl Streep & Jeremy Irons)instead to those viewers who really want to see a great film which contrasts love and art in two distinct time periods. Or if you are an A.S. Byatt fan I would suggest renting ANGELS AND INSECTS.
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on September 24, 2007
This is a mature, intelligent film (based upon the fictional novel (by the same title) by A.S. Byatt) starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle. Aaron Eckhart plays Roland Mitchell, an American graduate student working at a museum in London who stumbles upon a previously unaccounted for original letter, written by the (fictional) Victorian poet laureate, Randolph Ash (played by Jeremy Northam). The particular letter is of a rather racy nature and turns out to be directed to another poet of the day, Christabel LaMotte (played by Jennifer Ehle, who is the aunt, thrice-removed of (present-day) gender studies professor, Dr. Maud Bailey-played by Gwyneth Paltrow). In an effort to verify the connection that seemingly existed between the two 19th Century poets, Roland consults Maud, who is an authority on LaMotte's writings and personal life. As a result, the two find themselves caught up in an independent investigation into the relationship between the two poets and unearth the startling discovery that Ash and LaMotte were actually lovers.

The reluctant romance that ensues between Roland and Maud as they doggedly pursue their investigation is contrasted interestingly by the flashback moments in the film of the similarly love-shy, Victorians. Northam and Ehle, two veteran period actors, shine in their respective roles and the strong chemistry shared between the two is electric. The set designs and sumptuous costuming (particularly true of the Victorian shots in the movie) are lovely and help transport the viewer between the present-day parts of the movie and those which occur during the middle of the 19th Century.

"Possession" is a fascinating, suspenseful story about romance and inhibitions. While Roland and Maud tenaciously pursue their investigative work, the viewer also becomes acquainted with the political and highly competitive nature of scholarly study in the world of academia. As is normally the case in regard to matters associated with intellectual property, big money rides on the results; Roland's and Maud's joint research draws the attention of less-than-scrupulous colleagues, who launch their own investigation in an effort to also re-write literary history.

"Possession" will appeal to anyone who enjoys a love story or detective story, since both elements are combined beautifully in this film. The acting is top-notch and the story is believable and cleverly presented.
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on April 23, 2006
Possession contains contrasting parallel love stories where the contemporary characters discover love as they research a previously unknown love affair between two Victorian poets. The two contemporary characters, Maude and Roland (Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart) share an unwillingness to become involved with one another based on past romantic experiences. However, it is the journey they take together uncovering the secret relationship between Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte (Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle) that ultimately leads them to the discovery of themselves and one another.

As contemporary literary experts unearthing a more romantic past, the film appropriately textures Maude and Roland's relationship in a modern milieu. The love story between Randolph and Christabel is portrayed with the whimsical romance one would expect from the Victorian period. This structure allows for two completely different types of love stories to be told simultaneously. The present day story is consumed with internal conflicts in search of resolution, while the story of the past is driven by external factors including deceit, disloyalty, and tragedy.

The film is enjoyable, but far from outstanding. The most entertaining aspect is uncovering what happened between the two past lovers. The modern love story is predictable and rather ordinary in it's conventional use of the fear of pain to create tension. Randolph and Christabel's story contains more passion and intrigue than that of Maude and Roland's. The treatment of interchangeably telling two love stories is carried out well, but it just so happens that the one story is much more interesting than the other. The score and the tidbits of poetry are definitely two of the best components of the film. All of the performances are well acted, but still the ones that are the most enjoyable to watch are those of Northam and Ehle.
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