Saturday, February 04, 2006

"Pure Enchantment"

hI'm surprised this review hasn't been posted yet. It's from Cinetropic, about Possession.

Pure enchantment ...

The world of written poetry still endures, though sadly diminished; its power silenced among the pages of collected works and endless volumes of possibilities. Setting its scene in 19th Century Victorian England, an era rich in the advancement of the English language, Possession is a most enlightening testament to the power of poetry. The necessity of hand written correspondence challenged Victorian's to express themselves with a restrained passion defined by their morals and camouflaged in seductive prose. Most significantly, each letter was sent individually without knowing how it would be received or when to expect a reply. There was time for the recipient to pour over the words and ponder their meaning. Often the power of a well-turned phrase was proven more intoxicating than the faint scent of perfume strategically traced upon the stationery.

Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) is an aggressively American version of a scholar on a fellowship to research the revered Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam). Ash, a 19th Century poet laureate to Queen Victoria, is now celebrated for a collection of rapturous, late-life poems dedicated to his wife. As the story opens in contemporary London, the collection is being placed on exhibition in the British Museum. In the midst of his research, Roland stumbles upon hand written letters tucked into a book recovered from Ash's personal library. The amorous letters allude to the possibility they were written to a secret lover. The discovery is significant since the legend surrounding the poet evolves around his poetic devotion to his wife.

Roland's obsession with the idea leads him to evidence of Randolph's chance meeting with Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle), a lesser-known Victorian poet of his time. Roland manages an introduction to Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), a brilliant English academic who is a descendant of the LaMotte family and has extensively researched Christabel's life and work. The two embark upon a journey through a trail of hidden letters that takes them across England to the rooms and landscapes that influenced each poet's published works. As the meaning of words written centuries ago leap to life in their original surroundings and context, both a decidedly resigned Roland and aloofly English Maud are swept into the moment by the romance of poetry. Who could possibly resist?

The film is an admirable adaptation of A.S. Byatt's award winning novel Possession. Neil LaBute took on the formidable task of transforming the rich prose into a visual medium: "It was very hard to find the right balance between the two sets of characters and the two worlds. Possession is about the discovery of tangible things - letters, the past -- but also of things about oneself and how the past can reflect itself upon the present."

Gwyneth Paltrow is perfectly delightful, as always, playing the English Ice Queen, but it is the Victorian actors who dominate this film inspite of the minority of screen time alloted to them. Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle ignite the screen in a smoldering procession of stylish glimpses into a world where romance was the once the spice of life. Don't miss it ... particularily if you've NEVER read a romance novel.

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