Two literary scholars (Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow) doing research in England on separate Victorian poets jointly discover that these poets–one of them married (Jeremy Northam), the other a lesbian (Jennifer Ehle) with a live-in lover–may have had a secret affair. While chasing after clues, the scholars develop a possible relationship of their own. Oscillating between past and present, this adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s prizewinning novel sounds like it could be too precious for words, but I was wooed by its sexy romanticism all the way through the mysterious and beautiful coda. Director and cowriter Neil LaBute has a mixed record in my book, but if I’m reading the signals correctly, here he’s serving the material rather than playing auteur, and his two cowriters–David Henry Hwang (the author of M. Butterfly) and Laura Jones (who scripted An Angel at My Table)–are unusually skillful. Reportedly the biggest departure from the novel is making Eckhart’s character an American; Paltrow handles the manner of an English academic with grace and aplomb. 102 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, Esquire, Lake, Webster Place.

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