Preview by: Jack Foley
IT HAS been selected as the closing film of this years
London Film Festival and arrives amid some lukewarm US reviews
and a fair amount of controversy.
Sylvia is based on the passionate and turbulent marriage of American
poet and novelist, Sylvia Plath, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and
English poet, Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig), and is described on the
festival website as a classic exploration of creativity
and the nature of love.
Yet it was savaged by some US critics, as well as the couples
only daughter, who branded it insensitive, before
declaring that she would never see it, in a million years.
Needless to say, given the personality behind the biopic, Sylvia
is never designed to be easy or simple veiwing. For, it was while
still a student at Smith College that Plath first attempted suicide,
and her fictionalised account of this period, The Bell Jar, has
inspired and influenced two generations of readers.
In 1955, Plath came to England on a Fulbright Scholarship, and,
in Cambridge, she met and married the dashing Hughes, cementing
one of the literary worlds most volatile partnerships.
Christine (Rain) Jeffs movie follows their seven-year marriage,
and attempts to portray the joy and the pain of their love. It
also offers a trenchant take on the difficulties Plath faced as
a woman in the late 50s and early 60s, trying to juggle her writing
with her role as a wife and mother.
Paltrow, who has been committed to the role for a number of years,
has won a lot of acclaim for her performance, even among critics
who disliked the film, so it is little surprise to find that she
has fiercely defended it against both the bad press and the negative
reaction from Plaths daughter.
She insists the film respects its famous subjects and said she
felt it was unfair that the UK media should pick up on the US
reaction towards it, before they had the chance to see it, and
judge it, for themselves.
She went on to describe the movie as a very intelligent,
well-handled, emotional piece, as opposed to a salacious, gossipy
Yet given the current furore surrounding it, the films
prominence at this years festival is sure to make it one
of this years biggest talking points. And dont bet
against Paltrow featuring among this years Oscars nominations,
given the strong word of mouth generating about her performance.
Festival-goers will have the chance to judge for themselves on
November 6, at the closing night gala.
Sadly, critics in America were divided over the merits of Paltrows
latest, with reviews split pretty evenly between positive and
The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, summed up the negative
vibe, by stating that Sylvia is an exercise in drudgery,
with nothing particularly insightful or revealing to say about
the charter member of the Suicidal Poets Society and the artistic
endeavor in which she would make her indelible mark.
While speaking for the positives, Entertainment Weekly
declared it to be the richest role Paltrow has had since
Shakespeare in Love, and she rises to the challenge.
More sitting on the fence, was the Los Angeles Times,
which felt that, aside from Paltrow's performance, Sylvia
is neither a film so spectacular it shouldn't be missed, nor something
so tepid you have to stay away.
The New York Times, meanwhile, opined that it is
Plath's writing that represents ... her surest claim on our attention.
The makers of Sylvia may, to some degree, have neglected this
brilliant, unsettling and tragically foreshortened body of work,
but they have not betrayed it.
While USA Today felt that the lead performances
lift the film above melodrama, but they also expose the glaring
holes in the screenplay.
The New York Post wrote that Paltrow is clearly
committed to plumbing the depths of Plath's suffering, but this
frigid and inaccessible period piece wears its glumness like a
While Reelviews decided that Sylvia was a standard
melodrama that takes its grim tragedy and encases it in a veneer
of self-conscious artsyness.
Rolling Stone felt that one of the fiercest love
stories of the last century is reduced to Star Is Born pap,
while the Los Angeles Daily News wrote that nobody
expects a movie about Sylvia Plath to be a pleasant affair. But
we could have hoped that Sylvia might have buoyed its grimness
with more variety and imagination.
Slightly more positive, however, was LA Weekly, which
opined that it
more or less take the Hughes line,
evoking, through testy dialogue and alternately claustrophobic
and idyllic mise en scene, the continuing challenge, and occasional
delirium, of marriage to a brilliant manic-depressive.
Concluding this overview, however, is Box Office Magazine,
which concluded that Sylvia is probably best left for the
poet's legions of feminist and literary-minded fans who expect
nothing less than bleak seriousness in the biopic of their beloved