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Sylvia (2003)

Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, more...
Director: Christine Jeffs, Christine Jeffs
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Universal Studios
Genre: Drama, Foreign, Biopics, British Drama, UK
Running Time: 110 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
    see additional details...

The life of poet and novelist Sylvia Plath -- one of the most celebrated literary figures of her generation -- is brought to the screen in this controversial screen adaptation. Born in Boston, MA, in 1932, Plath (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) developed a precocious talent as a writer and published her first poem when she was only eight years old. That same year, tragedy introduced itself into her life as Plath was forced to confront the unexpected death of her father. In 1950, she began studying at Smith College on a literary scholarship, and while she was an outstanding student, she also began suffering from bouts of extreme depression; following her junior year, she attempted suicide for the first time. Plath survived, and, in 1955, she was granted a Fulbright Scholarship to study in England at Cambridge. While in Great Britain, Plath met Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig), a respected author who would later become the British Poet Laureate; the two fell in love, and married in 1958. However, marriage, family, and a growing reputation as an important poet failed to bring Plath happiness, and as she became increasingly fascinated with death in her later poetry and her sole novel, The Bell Jar, and after Hughes left her for another woman, her depression went into a tailspin from which she would never fully recover. Sylvia was adapted in part from Birthday Letters, a collection of poems Ted Hughes published in 1998, in which he dealt with his marriage to Plath in print for the first time. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

A Major Disappointment by EPetersen February 12, 2004 - 5:20 PM PST
9 out of 10 members found this review helpful
Sylvia Plath fans beware! Most critics panned this movie during its brief theatrical run, and with good reason. How could it be that a biopic of one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century offers practically no insight into her literary genius?

This was supposed to be a prestige picture for Gwyneth Paltrow, a film that would pull her sagging movie career out of the toilet. After making garbage like Shallow Hal, Gwyneth needed to do a serious, challenging drama to restore her credibility as an actress.

To Paltrow's credit, she has Sylvia Plath's looks and mannerisms down pat. Unfortunately, she is betrayed by a lousy screenplay that reduces the great poet's life to a grade B soap opera about how Plath's marriage to poet Ted Hughes disintegrated. Christine Jeffs' lethargic, heavy-handed direction doesn't help, either.

There is a big debate among scholars about what really drove Plath to suicide. It was most likely a combination of things - her mental illness, (she was manic-depressive) her emotional, incredibly taxing battle with writer's block, and her marriage to Hughes, whose abuse and adultery drove her to paranoia, delusion, and despair.

The screenplay treats Hughes with kid gloves. Only his adultery is explored here. From what I've read, he was more than just a cheater, though Hughes' admirers continue to dispute that he was physically and emotionally abusive to Sylvia.

As a biography of a great poet, this movie fails miserably. Sylvia's troubled childhood - which planted the seeds of both her mental illness and her poetic talent - is almost completely ignored, save for a brief mention by Plath. None of Sylvia's poems are presented here; only a few very brief excerpts of her greatest poem Daddy are read.

Sylvia's only novel, The Bell Jar, is just mentioned briefly, despite the fact that it mirrored Sylvia's struggle with mental illness and is considered a classic. I've read The Bell Jar; it's a brilliant novel. Not one word of it is presented here.

Fans of Sylvia Plath's writings will be greatly disappointed. This is not a biography of a poet, it's a soap opera about a bad marriage. Avoid it. Better luck next time, Gwyneth. You've got the acting chops, now all you need is a good screenplay.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 4.94)
48 Votes
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