A Summary of "Possession" With Gwyneth Paltrow

by Michael Davidson

"Possession" is a 2002 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart as two academics who develop a relationship with each other while simultaneously investigating a possible scandalous affair between two classical poets from Victorian-period England. The film is based on the novel by A.S. Byatt and is directed by Neil LaBute.

The Setup

Aaron Eckhart plays an American academic researcher named Roland Michell who is working in London. Michell is researching the life and works of Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash, known for many touching poems that he had written to his wife. Michell is shocked to uncover a letter written from Ash to another, lesser-known poet, Christabel LaMotte. The letter suggests that the two shared a romantic relationship. Shocked by this discovery, Michell contacts LaMotte expert Maud Bailey, portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow.

The Research

Bailey is very skeptical when first told of Michell's findings because LaMotte had lived for years in a lesbian relationship with a woman named Blanche Glover. Michell convinces Baily to help him look further into the interactions between LaMotte and Ash. Baily agrees, and the two begin to combine their research on Ash and LaMotte. They uncover a number of communications and artifacts linking the two together, revealing that an adulterous affair had indeed existed between the two and had gone on for an extended amount of time while Ash was still married.


As Michell and Baily conduct their research, the film cuts to numerous flashbacks revealing the true nature of the relationship between the two poets. The tender flashbacks between the two turn tragic when Blanche Glover commits suicide over LaMotte's affair with Ash. The death plays a large role in the two breaking up, but LaMotte doesn't tell Ash that she is pregnant. She gives her newly born daughter to her sister to raise, and Ash is not informed of her existence for more than 20 years.

Roland and Maud

As Roland and Maud research the poets, they discover that Maud is actually LaMotte's great-granddaughter. They also begin to fall for each other, and their relationship parallels the flashbacks showing the development of LaMotte and Ash's love for each other. The relationship is complicated by Maud's former lover Fergus, who is determined to uncover the truth about the poets before they do so he can expose it and establish his own career. Maud and Roland prevent him from digging up a grave for information. Roland and Maud indeed fall in love by the end of the film and share a kiss.