“SYLVIA” (2003) Review
I finally watched “SYLVIA”, the 2003 biography on poet Sylvia Plath, on DVD. After all I have heard about the movie, I had expected to be disappointed by it. To be truthful, I found it quite interesting biopic that was especially enhanced by the leads’ performances. But . . . “SYLVIA” was not a perfect film.
Set between the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, “SYLVIA” told the story of Plath’s marriage to fellow poet, British-born Ted Hughes, their tumultuous relationship and her struggles to maintain a career. The movie’s revelation of the Plath/Hughes courtship, followed by their marriage turned out to be very interesting and rather intense. “SYLVIA” also did an excellent job in re-capturing the literary and academic world in both the United States and Great Britain that Plath and Hughes interacted with during the 1950s and early 1960s.
I suspect that many had expected John Brownlow’s screenplay to take sides in its portrayal of the couple’s problems and eventual breakup. To Brownlow and director Christine Jeffs’ credit, the movie avoided this route. There were no heroes/heroines and villains/villainesses in their story . . . just two people who had failed to create a successful marriage. “SYLVIA” revealed that Hughes’ infidelity with married writer and poet, Assia Wevill, the critical indifference of the male-dominated literary world and her own bouts with depression made life difficult for Plath during her last years. At the same time, the movie made it clear that Hughes struggled to deal with a depressed and suicidal wife. In the end, the movie presented the possibility that both Plath and Hughes had contributed their breakup.
To be honest, I think that Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig’s performances as Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes had more to do with the movie’s main virtue than Jeffs’ direction or Brownlow’s script. director, Christine Jeffs or the screenwriter, John Brownlow. Also, the movie featured some first-rate performances from the supporting cast. All of them – Jared Harris as poet/literary critic Al Alvarez; Blythe Danner as Aurelia Plath, Sylvia’s mother; Amira Casar as Wevill; and Michael Gambon as Teacher Thomas, a neighbor of Sylvia’s; gave able support. But it is obvious that this movie belonged to Paltrow and Craig, who conveyed the intensity of the Plath/Hughes marriage with an honesty and rawness that I sometimes found hard to bear.
But even those two were not able to save the movie’s last half hour from almost sinking into an abyss of unrelenting boredom. I suspect that Jeffs and Brownlow wanted to give moviegoers an in-depth look at Plath’s emotional descent into suicide, following the break-up of her marriage to Hughes. But I wish they could have paced the movie’s ending a little better than what had been shown in the finale. The movie’s last half hour nearly dragged the story to a standstill.
Despite the last half hour, I would still recommend “SYLVIA”. In the end, it turned out to be a pretty interesting look into the marriage of the two famous poets, thanks to director Christine Jeffs, John Brownlow’s screenplay and a first-rate cast. But I believe that performances of both Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig proved to be the best aspects of the film.