Possession
4 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
the past will connect them LaBute takes on AS Byatt's Booker-winning novel in this beautifully made, extremely involving mystery-romance. Its three-sided plot works wonderfully, drawing us in with well-written and well-acted characters. Roland (Eckhart) is an American researcher in London who stumbles upon a possible connection between two 19th century poets, who we meet in flashbacks. Randolph Ash (Northam) was faithfully married to Ellen (Aird), but Roland suspects that he may have had an affair with Christabel LaMotte (Ehle), who was supposedly just as faithful to her lesbian lover Blanche (Headey). So Roland consults another expert, Dr Maud Bailey (Paltrow), and as they dig into the story, unearthing key evidence that points to possibilities and hidden truth, Maud and Roland begin to fall for each other as well. But they need to beat a pair of rival scholars (Stephens and Eve) to some real evidence.

The three storylines (Maud and Roland's search for the story, their romance and the parallel romance between Ash and LaMotte) dovetail perfectly, with the mystery driving the film and the love stories fleshing it out. There are unexpected twists and turns that add interest and some suspense, but it's the two emotional tales that keep us involved. And the principle roles are extremely well-played, with Paltrow's ice queen thawing slowly while Eckhart's intrepid flatfoot disarms her (and us) at every step. Meanwhile, Northam and Ehle get the best dialog, wrapped in poetry and heaving with period passion. LaBute directs with his trademark insight, never letting things get soppy on any level and keeping our brains engaged. The production is slick and impeccable. It's not completely successful though; the mystery climaxes in a rather weak "action" scene, and the romantic storylines never gather enough steam to make us swoon. But it's utterly gripping anyway. We become detectives with Roland and Maud, revelling in every discovery along with them, right up to the lovely collection of surprises at the end.

cert 12 themes, language 26.Sep.02

dir Neil LaBute
scr David Henry Hwang, Laura Jones, Neil LaBute
with Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle, Lena Headey, Toby Stephens, Holly Aird, Trevor Eve, Tom Hollander, Tom Hickey, Anna Massey, Graham Crowden
release US 16.Aug.02; UK 25.Oct.02
Warners
02/UK 1h42

Sleuthing. Maud and Roland (Paltrow and Eckhart) dig in to the past and make a few discoveries...

paltrow eckhart northam ehle

LaMotte and Ash (Ehle and Northam)
R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... the past will connect them "This is wonderfully romantic, thoughtful and compelling. It was wonderful to watch a film that relied on strong acting and a strong storyline to keep the audience enraptured. The Victorian story meshed perfectly with the present day action. It's just a shame that it hasn't presented well at the box office - definitely down to an almost total lack of UK marketing, rather than the quality of the film." --Jo Caswell, West Sussex 1.Nov.02
2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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