Saturday, November 26, 2011

Possession: The Book vs. The Film

Possession is a romantic novel that traces the love affair between two Victorian poets as well as the story of the modern academics piecing together the trail of letters they left behind. The novel is beautiful, full of the lush language A.S. Byatt was famous for. Though, there are some long passages of poetry that seem a little indulgent and unnecessary, you gradually get more and more drawn into the story of the Victorians, Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte.
I saw the 2002 film last night with starred Gweneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart as Maud and Roland, the modern academics turned historical detectives. Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle play Ash and LaMotte.
Of course the film makes many cuts so that it can fit in a 1 hour and 40 minute time slot. They trim down many things (like some of the epic poems) that don't effect the story too much, but the film seemed to be missing something deeper. The character of Roland, especially seems underdeveloped. Everything seems to happen very quickly and some of the slower, more character driven moments from the book are missing.
Filmmaker and playwright Neil LaBute does tap into a few highly emotional moments which came as a surprise to me. His plays are often rather cool and cynical, but he found his romantic side while working on this screenplay.
Even though it's not my favorite of Byatt's novel, it is certainly worth the reading, even if you've seen the film. If you've read the book, but haven't seen the movie, it's nice to see the story brought to life, but you may have the strange sensation of missing the characters you know from the book. As with nearly any book to film, the book is better, but it was a decent adaptation. Still interesting, intelligent, and romantic. It will never be the way I saw it in my head, of course, but that's always the problem with adaptations.

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