The Henry Ash Code
Now I know where Dan Brown got his idea from for "The Da Vinci Code". Okay maybe not but when you watch "Possession" which is adapted from A.S. Byatt's novel you will notice similarities to "The Da Vinci Code". The main similarity is that "Possession" features two historians who join forces when they discover old letters which suggest a famous poet may have had an affair and basically go on a treasure hunt, following the clues to unravel whether or not their theory is true. In fact how the actual storyline plays out also has a similarity to "The Da Vinci Code" although you also have a story which is about a dual romance, one in the past and one in the present. The trouble is that for me "Possession" lacks one thing and that is energy, we witness are two historians digging around in books to find clues whilst the past is recreated but there is no sense of urgency to grab your attention and it makes it feel a bit aimless at times.
Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart - Erin Brockovich) a poetry enthusiast and historian discovers a love letter in an old book which belonged to poet Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam) and believes that the supposedly happily married Ash had an affair. His research leads him to Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow - The Talented Mr. Ripley) an expert in the life of poet Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle) and together they work to try and unravel the mystery as to whether Ash and LaMotte had been secret lovers. At the same time they also find themselves starting to have feelings for each other whilst also having to deal with the threat of historian and rival trying to beat them to the discovery.
So "Possession" is a story of two things with the first being the almost treasure hunt side of things as researcher and Randolph Henry Ash enthusiast Roland Michell discovers a love letter that the poet was writing to someone. It leads him to suspect that the happily married Ash may have been having an affair back in the 19th century and this leads him to Maud Bailey who is an expert in the life of poet Christabel LaMotte. Together they unravel the mystery, look in books, search through old rooms, hop across the channel as they try and work out whether Ash and LaMotte were in fact lovers and find more than they bargained for. It is entertaining because any sort of treasure hunt mystery has a natural fascination about it and with rival historians Wolfe and Cropper both on their trail adds a tiny bit of purpose.
The other thing which "Possession" is, is a dual love story because we see the past recreated and the romance between Ash and LaMotte whilst in the now we have Roland and Maud falling for each other. There is a bit of parallel symbolism going on but it is not the most enthralling of love stories, in fact it does feel quite dull at times. Maybe those who enjoy period dramas will enjoy the romantic element of the past as admittedly I am not a fan of period dramas, but even then the romance in the now feels quite dull.
That is the thing about "Possession" as whilst it's nicely put together, the now flows into the past nicely and the revealing of secrets is interesting it is mostly dull. It lacks energy; a sense of urgency which would give it momentum instead of feeling like it is floating along aimlessly. And it is a shame as both sides of the movie, the mystery and the romance, are interesting and could have made for a truly exciting movie rather than the slightly dull one we got.
Now part of the trouble is the performances, in fact two performances because whilst Aaron Eckhart as Roland and Gwyneth Paltrow as Maud both deliver very different characters the chemistry between them doesn't work. Do you believe they are falling for each other, no, and that is partly because of a lack of energy but also it feels a little cliche. Thankfully the other performances specifically those of Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle who play Ash and LaMotte are more believable and you do get a sense of the turmoil but also love when it came to their illicit affair.
What this all boils down to is that "Possession" is a nice idea for a movie with its combination of historical mystery and romance which runs in parallel between the past and present. But because it lacks energy and at times feels a bit aimless it struggles from periods of being dull, in dire need of some sort of urgency to spark it into life.