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Possession: Novel & Film
"I cannot stand in a fire and not be consumed..."
A.S. Byatt's 1990 Booker Prize novel is considered by many to be the perfect novel. Byatt wrote all the poetry which displays not only her grasp of excellent fiction and poetry but also her unique creativity. Two of the four main characters are the Victorian poets, Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash. Despite that both are written by the same author (Byatt) they show remarkable styles showcasing each poet.
LaMotte: "I cannot let you burn me up, nor can I resist you. No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed."
Ash: "They say that women change: 'tis so: but you are ever-constant in your changefulness, like the still thread of falling river, one from source to last embrace in the still pool ever-renewed and ever-moving on the first to last a myriad water-drop."
Mainly the differences exist due to how the poets live their lives. Randolph Henry Ash is a noted poet by the British public as well as Queen Victoria. His wife Ellen is a quite and unassuming woman. Mainly the model of Victorian female propriety. Christable LaMotte however is the complete opposite of Ellen. LaMotte lives a quiet life writing her poetry with her companion Blance who is an artist. Ash and LaMotte meet at a dinner party and proceed to write each other letters. Through the letters they eventually fall in love but in Shakespeare's immortal words, 'the course of true love never doth run smooth.'
Ash and LaMotte are only half of the story as they are set in the Victorian period so fast forward to modern time England. Roland Mitchell is a lowly research assistant for Professor Blackadder a self proscribed expert on Randolph Henry Ash. While in the London library Roland finds drafts of letters written by Ash. He then takes the letters and decides to do some research on who is this mysterious lady that Ash is writing to. (I know all academics must have shivered reading that part) Mitchell is hesitant to discuss his find with Blackadder or Fergus Wolf, another research assistant who becomes the villain of the novel. Mitchell eventually deducts that the lady is Christabel LaMotte but no one knows much about her. Enter Dr. Maud Bailey, a women studies professor who is not only a noted author on Christabel LaMotte but also LaMotte's great-great-great grand niece. Mitchell and Bailey then begin a journey throughout England and France trying to discover the connection between Ash and LaMotte. Reading how they make the connections is exhilarating for most people who enjoy mysteries. The romance between Ash and LaMotte and Mitchell and Bailey are wonderful as well!
Of course as novels are prone to do occasionally Byatt does go into extreme detail. Sometimes it gets a little much as we, the reader, just want to focus on the main characters rather than going into say Blackadder's history. Despite that it is still a wonderfully moving novel about how the past is never truly known and what choices we make affect future generations.
Neil LaBute Film Poster
Can the film recapture the magic?
In a word, 'yes.' Though if you are a purist then you'll find flaws with the film. Of course a film cannot possibly explore all avenues like a novel can, instead it must choose a focus. The film focuses on the four main characters. One of the truly brilliant points of the film are the seamless movements between the Victorian period and the present. Watch the scene at Thomasin waterfall and you'll see what I mean.
My favorite parts concern Ash, played by the ever talented Jeremy Northam, and LaMotte, played by the best actress to ever portray Elizabeth Bennet, Jennifer Ehle. The two actors portray Victorian poets with effortless ease. Jennifer Ehle's face is quite beautiful in the classical sense. They perform voice overs to read their poetry and the viewer nearly feels that Northam and Ehle have actually written their own poetry.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Ekhart portray Maud Bailey and Roland Mitchell. They are quite good as well but somehow they just lack the fire that Northam and Ehle bring to their roles. Unlike the novel the film is much easier to follow. Also watch Toby Stephens play Fergus Wolf with his wicked sneers of glee. The music and cinematoraphy of London and the surrounding countryside of England are spectacular. By the end you desire the pastorial experience that romantic and Victorian writers sought. Nothing seeks to harm you, but then life would never change and where's the story then? The film never had huge commercial success but it is a film that makes you think and enjoy knowing how love can often take on a life of its' own.