Everyone thought AS Byatt's complex, time-hopping, poetry-crammed novel was unfilmable. "Everyone" was right. Her Booker prize-winning tale of modern-day academics unearthing the love affair of a pair of Victorian writers is too bookish, too clever and just too fiddly to be boiled down into Hollywood entertainment. Even with In The Company Of Men's Neil LaBute at the helm.
Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow are the bookworms, Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle are the Victorian lovers. Neither pair really convinces. Ignoring the fact that they're far too goodlooking to ever end up as librarians, Eckhart and Paltrow tamely follow the conventional relationship arc of movie romance (bicker, find common ground, fall in lurve). Problem is, there's never any jolt of passion between them.
Ehle and Northam are a little better. Trouble is, their story is told in flashback, the time skips triggered by those in the "now" discovering clues to their past activities. The result is characters who seem distant and ghostly, their emotions muted.
To be fair, LaBute handles the mechanics of it all beautifully, moving between the centuries with sometimes breathtaking visual simplicity. But the structure works against him when he tries to inject real emotion into events.Just as one story starts tweaking your heartstrings, the film flits off to the other one. Given more time (why try to capture Byatt's chunky tome in 102 minutes?), he might have pulled it off. As it is, the film skates along the surface of the book, leaving anyone who's read it feeling dissatisfied and anyone who hasn't wondering just what all the fuss was about.
A spirited attempt to film the impossible, Neil LaBute's latest isn't worth the ticket. Glossy, attractive and full of pretty people, but lacking in tension or heart.