|Since her suicide in February 1963, Sylvia Plath has been the subject of almost cult-like devotion by many academics and
scholars. There have been numerous books dissecting her poems and one published novel, The Bell Jar. Equally, there have
been many invectives against her husband Ted Hughes (future Poet Laureate of England), with some of Plath's supporters
stooping to accusing him of murder. (He returned the favor by decrying the fact that Plath had been turned into, in his words,
"the patron saint of feminism.") The couple had a tempestuous relationship from their first meeting in Cambridge where she
reportedly bit him through their marriage and separations. It perhaps didn't help Hughes' standing when it was revealed that he
destroyed some of her journals (although he may have been actually protecting her and her reputation) and his refusal to discuss
her death and his blocking material from scholars during his lifetime raised more questions. Even when he did break his silence
in 1998 and published Birthday Letters, a series of poems addressed to Plath that traced their lives together, there were those
who interpreted his writing in a negative light.
Given the almost mythic stature of their relationship and the number of books written about them, it may be surprising that it
took so long for a feature film to be made about their lives together. Now, forty years after her suicide and five years after
Hughes' death, BBC Films has produced SYLVIA, directed by Christine Jeffs and written by John Brownlow. Despite the
objections of the couple's daughter Frieda (who refused to allow the filmmakers permission to quote at length from the poems),
Jeffs and Brownlow confine the movie to the span of time between the couple's initial meeting in 1956 to her death in 1963,
managing to create a portrait of a marriage between passionate, creative people. The fact that the leading roles are played by
Gwyneth Paltrow (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Plath) and Daniel Craig bolsters the film's success.
Paltrow is a gifted actress but many of her post-Oscar roles have not tapped into her abilities. As Sylvia Plath, she gets to let
loose and tackle a character that teeters between the audience's sympathies. At times, Plath is selfish and prickly and unlikable,
and it is a credit to Paltrow's capabilities that the audience still cares about Sylvia. She is matched by Daniel Craig as Ted
Hughes in a role that exudes both intelligence and sex appeal. They are perfectly suited to one another and their performances
mesh to create a portrait of a volatile marriage.
In the supporting cast, the gorgeous Amira Casar impresses as Hughes' mistress Assia Wevill while Jared Harris does yeoman
work as Al Alvarez, a literary friend of both writers. But two veteran performers almost steal the film out from under the leads:
Michael Gambon is terrific as a concerned neighbor of Sylvia's and Blythe Danner (Paltrow's real-life mother) is extraordinary
in her brief appearance as Sylvia's mother. (I actually wish the filmmakers had concentrated a bit more on the pre-1956 Sylvia
only so Danner could have had more scenes.)
While the film may work best for those familiar with Plath and Hughes and their lives and work, SYLVIA does offer the novice
the chance to learn something about these two larger-than-life literary figures brought fully to life by a pair of gifted actors.
Running time: 110 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality/nudity and language
Viewed at the CC Village East Cinema
|© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.