Possession (5/10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


 A decade or so ago the Dodgers had a pitcher named Alejandro Peña whose moves were so deliberate his teammates called him “Slow.”  Compared to Possession Peña would look like a gazelle. 

 Roland Mitchell (Aaron Eckhert) and Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow) are modern day literary sleuths investigating the possibility that a famous Victorian era poet, fictional Randolph Ash (played without a trace of emotion by Jeremy Northam) had a secret love affair with a minor poet Christabel La Motte (played by Jennifer Ehle who cavorts most of the time with a Mona Lisa type smile).

 The first half hour is tedious as Roland and Maud discover previously unknown letters between Ash and La Motte, and read them to each other to set the plot.  Director Neil LaBute and fellow screenwriters David Henry Hwang and Laura Jones couldn’t have chosen a more convoluted way to set up the story.  Maybe it worked in the novel by A.S. Byatt, but not in a movie. Back and forth they read.  The language is so Victorian poet-ish that it’s difficult to follow their sleuthing, but they sure get excited about what they deduce.  And what they deduce is that the always-thought-to-be-upstanding-prim-and-proper Ash might have had a clandestine, torrid affair with Christabel, commonly thought to be a lesbian and who was apparently Maud’s great aunt several times removed. The known record only shows that they met but once at a party.  Such an affair would be doubly shocking because Ash was known for his loving poems to his barren wife.

After the plot is set, the movie becomes more involving. They proceed to investigate further to see if they can discover the truth.  Did they or didn’t they?  And, if they did, what was the result? The story bounces back and forth between the 19th century relationship of Ash and La Motte (and La Motte’s relationship with her lesbian lover, Blanche Glover, played by Lena Headey) to the 21st century relationship between Roland and Maud, which is about as deep as a half filled thimble.

 Roland sports an annoying Don Johnson-like two-day stubble throughout the movie, even though it takes place over the course of weeks.  The length of this stubble never changes.  It looks as though if Maud were ever to bring herself to kiss him she’d need stitches, which is probably why she rarely ventures into that abyss.

 In style this is sort of a French Lieutenant’s Woman meets Two For the Road.  The best love story in the film, however, is between Cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier and Paltrow.  Not only does Escoffier give us beautiful panoramic shots of the English countryside, he makes love to Paltrow every time he shoots her.  The result is that her beauty, exceptional to begin with, becomes breathtaking. 

The End