Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA/United Kingdom, 2002. Focus Features, Warner Bros., Baltimore Spring Creek Productions, Contagious Films, USA Films. Screenplay by David Henry Hwang, Laura Jones, Neil LaBute, based on the novel by A.S. Byatt. Cinematography by Jean-Yves Escoffier. Produced by Barry Levinson, Paula Weinstein. Music by Gabriel Yared. Production Design by Luciana Arrighi. Costume Design by Jenny Beaven. Film Editing by Claire Simpson.
A.S. Byatt’s richly romantic novel has been adapted to the big screen with partially successful results. An American research assistant (Aaron Eckhart) comes across evidence that the 19th-century poet he is studying (Jeremy Northam) could have possibly had a romance with a contemporary colleague (Jennifer Ehle). He teams up with the descendant of the female poet (Gwyneth Paltrow) to search a countryside of giant manors and hidden diaries to discover more information about this possible breakthrough in literary history, something made difficult by their having ambitious professors and grave-robbing museum curators hot on their trail. Paltrow and Eckhardt’s work together is excellent, and the muted romance that they develop while going through her work is sumptuous and satisfying. Unfortunately, the scenes involving Northam and Ehle aren’t quite as impressive, riddled with their lack of chemistry and somewhat shallow writing, leaving the film with an uncomfortable balance between the two storylines. Considering the fascinating journey that the two modern-day heroes go on, the film deserves to burn with a lot more passion than it does, but unfortunately it’s a pretty cold fish in comparison to a similar, more complex film like The French Lieutenant’s Woman (which doesn’t even have as good a story to start with).