Possession (2002 film)

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North American theatrical release poster
Directed byNeil LaBute
Produced byBarry Levinson
Stephen Pevner
Paula Weinstein
Written byDavid Henry Hwang
Laura Jones
Neil LaBute
Based onPossession: A Romance by A. S. Byatt
StarringAaron Eckhart
Gwyneth Paltrow
Jeremy Northam
Jennifer Ehle
Music byGabriel Yared
CinematographyJean-Yves Escoffier
Edited byClaire Simpson
Distributed byFocus Features (US)
Warner Bros. Pictures (International)
Release date
August 16, 2002 (Limited)
August 30, 2002
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$25 million
Box office$14.8 million[1]

Possession is a 2002 British-American romantic mystery drama film written and directed by Neil LaBute and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart. It is based on the 1990 novel of the same name by British author A. S. Byatt, who won the Booker Prize for it the year it was published.


A fictional story of literary scholars American Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) and British Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), who independently find that the socially antagonistic relationship between the Victorian era poets Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam) and Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle) may have concealed a secret connection as lovers. Ash is traditional and conservative and LaMotte is a freethinking bisexual. Rival scholars become aware of their efforts and each seeks to be the first at the public disclosure of this major finding about the poets. In a parallel relationship, Michell and Bailey have their own deepening connection.



Three early drafts of the film's screenplay were written by American playwright David Henry Hwang in the 1990s, but the project languished in pre-production for years. Directors such as Sydney Pollack and Gillian Armstrong worked on the film and eventually gave up before LaBute became director.[2] LaBute made drastic changes to the story, based partially on notes that original author Byatt had made on earlier drafts of the screenplay, as she recognized that Roland Michell had to "exist on screen" in a different way than he did in the book.[2]

LaBute recalled:

"What she basically said was, 'This is Roland on the page; you must make him different in a film!' She got that Roland needed more drive. Just seeing those notes kind of gave me the keys to the kingdom. And so in the film, Roland keeps making these wild, imaginative leaps about the poets' lives, and Maud's both charmed and appalled."[2]

LaBute changed Roland's nationality from British to American, and made him more brash and active. He denied that this was "shameless pandering to the audience. ... in part, it was [just] more comfortable for me to write Roland that way."[2]


Ralph Fiennes was approached for the role as Randolph Ash that eventually went to Jeremy Northam.[3]


Daniel Zalewski of The New York Times noted that director LaBute, "known for savagely blunt stage and screen dramas ... has here infused a British novelist's main characters with the same stutter-and-slang rhythms, male-bonding repartée and sarcastic volleys that define his own distinctly American work." He said, "In the end, Mr. LaBute's grafting of his own sensibility onto Roland creates a weird tonal clash."[2]

Jamie Russell of the BBC said, "Lacking the intelligence of an arthouse picture, or the classy sheen of a British production, "Possession" isn't possessed of anything other than over-wrought emotionalism and unintentional silliness."[4]

Rob Gonsalves said, "Possession is a dual-track exploration of romantic mores then and now ... A film like this rides on the quality of the acting, and the Brits – Northam and Ehle – invest their forbidden love with centuries of fine repressed English tradition."[5]

Audiences rated it higher than some reviewers. The film grossed $14,815,898 worldwide.[1]


The film has been released on DVD with subtitles and captions.


  1. ^ a b Possession, Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ a b c d e Daniel Zalewski (18 August 2002). "FILM; Can Bookish Be Sexy? Yeah, Says Neil LaBute". The New York Times'. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  3. ^ "News Summary: Berry Sorry". by Sandra P. Angulo, Entertainment Weekly. 2000-05-11. Retrieved 2007-03-06.
  4. ^ Jamie Russell, "Possession", BBC, 20 October 2002
  5. ^ Rob Gonsalves, "Possession", E-Film Critic, 02/02/07

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