Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the scenes featurette; Original
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 Jeffs
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,
Sylvias 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
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
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.
Jeffs 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
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 Plaths 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
Jeffs film certainly looks great, and is heavy on using
water as a metaphor for Plaths 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, wont have very many people seeking
to find out more about the poet.