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Sylvia (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the scenes featurette; Original theatrical trailer.

TO POETRY enthusiasts, Sylvia Plath is regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, whose death, at the age of 30, by her own hand, represents a great tragedy.

To many people watching the film, however, the passion and inspiration her work evoked may remain a mystery, as Christine Jeff’s movie opts to concentrate on the reasons behind her troubled mental state, exploring her relationship with fellow poet, Ted Hughes, rather than offering much of an insight into the artist at work.

It is also hindered by the fact that, allegedly, Frieda Hughes, Sylvia’s only daughter, and literary executor, refused to allow the film to use any of her poetry, which makes it difficult for anyone not averse with it, to form any sort of opinion on it.

Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Plath and does a credible job of tapping into the frustrations and insecurities that appear to have hounded the poet throughout much of her short life. But while her obvious passion for Plath translates well, in terms of performance, she is often to be found wanting in terms of making an emotional connection.

Plath married Hughes (played by a suitably brooding Daniel Craig) within months of meeting him, and the newlyweds enjoyed a brief spell in America, before returning to England, to both London and Devon, where their troubles began.

Far from providing an inspiration for her work, however, Hughes appeared to have been a hindrance, with Plath frequently finding herself unable to write during the better times between the two of them.

It is only when the bitterness, infidelity and violence take a grip that Plath seems able to have produced her finest, most highly-rated work, which would eventually comprise the Ariel collection, published, ironically, two years after her death.

Jeff’s film, while absorbing in places, fails to properly do justice to the talent behind the poet, preferring instead to cast her as a tortured soul, caught in the grip of profound mental distress.

It also opts, to a certain extent, to portray Hughes as something of a villain, only really tapping into the deep admiration he so obviously held for her, by way of a poignant postscript.

Due to the episodic nature of proceedings, very little time is therefore afforded to the passions which brought them together, which may leave many scratching their heads as Plath’s mental fragility becomes exposed. And some of the key moments in their life also appear to be overlooked, when one takes the time to research her biography.

Paltrow, too, suffers from this, failing to really engage on that all-important emotional level, and diminishing the impact of the tragedy which unfolds. Her journey feels like an ordeal to watch.

Jeff’s film certainly looks great, and is heavy on using water as a metaphor for Plath’s mental state (much as she did in her acclaimed debut, Rain), but it, too, feels cold and detached, and therefore as troubled as the poet herself.

All of which contributes to making Sylvia a film which, while certainly worthy in intent, won’t have very many people seeking to find out more about the poet.

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