They meet as students at Cambridge in the 50s, and soon marry, but the passion American poet Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) and English poet Edward Hughes (Daniel Craig) share soon begins to shatter amidst infidelity and bitterness. They go to America and soon return to England, they have two children and they intermittently love and hate one another. As Plath's state of extreme insecurity, stress and distress intensifies, it propels her to not only an outpouring of her best work, but her early death by suicide.
Review by Louise Keller:
Drawn together by poetry and passion, but torn apart by jealousy and obsession, Sylvia is the epitome of a tormented love story. Our emotional journey however, lingers on the emotional abyss and insecurities of the title character, leaving us with little understanding of her actual talents as a poet. The joy of love, the inspiration of love, the agony of love….
From Christine Jeffs, the director of Rain, comes a story based on the real events and the relationship between acclaimed poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. It's a reflective film, filled with imagery, colour and nuance. Gabriel Yared's music score (he also scored Possession, Neil Labute's fictional story about a Victorian poet and English academic, which also stars Gwyneth Paltrow) adds greatly to the mood and the uncertainty of the emotions. The score could equally serve a thriller, such is the dramatic content of the film.
Is inspiration for talented poets limited to those who are unhappy? Is happiness a hindrance to creativity? 'I'm dried up,' moans Sylvia, when baking cakes replaces innovation to her poetry and writing. 'You just have to find a subject and stick your neck in it,' retorts Ted. Sylvia recognises that her emotions are the subject she knows best, but her emotional instability and obsessive jealousy devours her, and cannot accept the love she is offered. Poor reviews and a couple of demanding babies later, Sylvia makes life impossible for Ted. The dinner scene at their Devon country house is filled with awkward silences, when David and Assia Wevill come to visit on Sylvia's invitation. Suspicion and a jealous rage from the simplest gestures erupt into a nightmare of horrendous proportions. The juxtaposition of scenes of Sylvia's retaliatory burning of Ted's writings with Ted's fiery passions of a carnal kind symbolise the untenable nature of their relationship.
Gwyneth Paltrow is haunting as Sylvia, driven by her unhappiness; the poetic imagery she writes is 'like a murderer's confession'. I especially enjoyed Craig Daniels' performance so filled with nuance and compassion, who finally breaks free when it is quite apparent that he too will drown unless he makes a life raft for himself. Blythe Danner and Michael Gambon are both memorable in small but crucial roles - as the sceptical mother and kindly neighbour reminiscent of her beloved father. Appealing especially to women audiences, Sylvia is a dense and emotionally claustrophobic film. It's pace is lingering, often slow and sometimes frustrating, but offers some rewards for those willing to make the journey.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The film version of life stories about painters (or sculptors or musicians) is far easier to pull off than a biopic of a writer, much less two writers - and far, far less than two poets. Bravery award to all concerned, but Sylvia is a good example of every good intention leading to cinematic disappointment.
The studied, meticulous, moody and reverential snapshot of American Sylvia Plath and her English husband Ted Hughes makes excruciating cinema, and that is despite the sensitive, multi-layered performance at the heart of it by Gwyneth Paltrow. This exercise in a partial portrait of the doomed and unbalanced, melancholy life of Sylvia Plath does at least offer a shard of light into her psychological state, but the structure of the film is a fight against real life.
The story jumps from one stepping stone of her life to another, the facts of her having two children treated like items on a list to be checked off. Only spasmodically do we feel engaged, more often distanced by the nature of the storytelling. Her ideas are not given enough space, because they wouldn't work as film: what little poetry there is tends to be gazumped by a fastidious attention to Sylvia's appearance, which either confirms or contrasts her mental state.
Filmmaking crafts are excellent, although Gabriel Yared's music is a tad too strident at times, imposing itself as the emotive guide track in what is otherwise a film trying to be subtle, sensitive and soul-searching. The ending is at once rushed and dissatisfying, and a little confusing as we see Ted kiss her farewell gently - after her body has been taken away by the ambulance - in a visually striking scene at odds with the rest of the film's muted tones. It's a complicated business, life, and dying is just as bad.
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CAST: Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, Blythe Danner, Michael Gambon
PRODUCER: Alison Owen
DIRECTOR: Christine Jeffs
SCRIPT: John Brownlow
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Toon
EDITOR: Tariq Anwar
MUSIC: Gabriel Yared
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Maria Djurkovic
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 29, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: July 14, 2004