In Neil LaBute's film adaptation of A.S. Byatt's Booker Prize-winning 1990 novel, Aaron Eckhart (who has starred in all of LaBute's films) plays Roland Michell, an American academic researcher, working in London, who discovers… More In Neil LaBute's film adaptation of A.S. Byatt's Booker Prize-winning 1990 novel, Aaron Eckhart (who has starred in all of LaBute's films) plays Roland Michell, an American academic researcher, working in London, who discovers some important letters written by a famous Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam [Gosford Park]). Ash was presumed to have been totally devoted to his wife, but Roland finds letters written to another unnamed woman, and soon determines that the intended recipient was another, less well-known poet, Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle of Sunshine). Roland contacts Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), an expert on LaMotte's life and work, who tells him that LaMotte couldn't have had an affair with Ash because she lived most of her life with a female companion, Blanche Glover (Lena Headey), in what was apparently a romantic relationship. Despite Maud's skepticism, the two begin to investigate, and uncover a wealth of information about the affair between the two poets. Period scenes of the illicit relationship between Ash and LaMotte are intercut with the contemporary investigation of the two academics. Roland and Maud initially fight their attraction to each other, but as the pair find more evidence of the historical and tragic romance, they find themselves overcoming their own resistance to romantic entanglement. Possession was kicked around as a film project for a long time before LaBute became interested. Director Sydney Pollack originally was slated to film a screenplay by David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly), who receives a credit on the finished film. When LaBute took over the project years later, he reworked the screenplay with Laura Jones (The Portrait of a Lady).
Consensus: It's perhaps a bit tame and uninspiring, considering its subject matter, but Possession manages enough romance and period intrigue to satisfy most fans of its source material.