Directed by Neil LaBute, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle, Lena Headey, Holly Aird and Toby Stephens.

After the cruelty and casual misogyny of 'Your Friends and Neighbours' and 'In the Company of Men', Neil LaBute would not seem to be the obvious choice for an adaptation of AS Byatt's romantic Booker Prize winning novel 'Possession'. However, despite changing the outsider's role from a working class Briton to an American and thereby neatly side-stepping the class issues which were an intrinsic part of the book, he - just about - manages to pull it off.

'Possession' neatly intertwines the stories of two pairs of lovers. Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash (Northam) and Christabel LaMotte (Ehle) had a forbidden affair which remains hidden until American research student Roland Michell (Eckhart) discovers an old love letter in one of Ash's books. He approaches Maud Bailey (Paltrow), a professor in woman's studies and expert on LaMotte's life, for assistance. In their quest for clues, the modern academics follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, falling reluctantly in love along the way.

LaBute manages to succinctly condense a 500-plus page book into a 102 minute film which moves along at a rapid pace, travelling from the British Museum to the university of Lincoln and then taking the literary detectives on a whirlwind trip around a beautifully photographed (by French cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier) Britain. The clean crispness of modern day gives way to rich muted colours in the Victorian period, sometimes, to brilliant effect, even in the same shot - as when Roland and Maud stay in the room where Ash and Christabel consummated their affair.

In yet another English role, Gwyneth Paltrow is superb as the guarded Maud, gradually and believably melting towards Aaron Eckhart's bestubbled unconventional Roland. But the acting honours go to Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle who convey more in a single smouldering glance than all the dialogue of the present-day scenes can. They also have the more interesting task of surrendering their Victorian selves to a doomed romance - although they know that it will bring pain - while the modern couple try to talk and think themselves out of an opportunity for happiness.

Engaging and unashamedly romantic, 'Possession' is that rare thing - a chick-flick with brains.

Caroline Hennessy