This is a classic case of ‘not every book can be adapted to film. Possession by A.S. Byatt won the Booker Prize in 1990, and while it’s full of juicy plot that entwines, essentially, a detective story of two modern-day literary scholars with the romantic lives of two Victorian poets, the novel is also a lyrical tour de force full of actual poetry and historical letters that create subtle rhythms and emotional depths perfect for writing and difficult for filming. Thus, Possession (2002) the movie is a very mixed bag and unsatisfying, especially if, like me, you love the book.
The modern framing story is changed significantly in the movie by making the male scholar a hunky yet kind of dumb American (Aaron Eckhart) instead of a nebbishy Brit, which makes no sense. Also, I just don’t get Gwyneth Paltrow as the female scholar AT ALL.
So let’s ignore them and look at the Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam), based on Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle), based on Christina Rossetti. Christabel’s lesbian lover, Blanche Glover (Lena Headey), is also part of the historical flashbacks as the modern characters uncover the hidden affair between Ash and LaMotte. The subtle 1850s-1860s costumes were designed by the always excellent Jenny Beavan and reflect the upper-class artistic world Ash, LaMotte, and Glover live in. The look is not flashy, but it’s rich, soft, and conveys each character’s status and occupation well.
Have you seen the movie of Possession? Did you read the book?