It's always a tricky one-trying to give a balanced view of a marriage that none of us was part of and in which the only two participants are dead. Gwyneth Paltrow plays the preppy American abroad to a T, and portrays Sylvia's darker and more complex sides with equal aplomb. Daniel Craig gives a charismatic perfromance as Ted, who was famously attractive to women (even if you see pictures of him in his later years, he still had those piercing hawk like eyes).
The film portrays the inequality of the early sixties- for all its liberalism, she was always going to be overshadowed by her husband. Despite her intelligence and strong character, she was still Ted's wife to their contemporaries. It would be easy to judge Sylvia for her temper and irrational jealousy, but it must have been agony to have always been that suspicious, traumatised, and angry. It would also be easy to judge Ted and simply condemn his infidelity, but what I liked about this film is that you judge them both. She was wrong, he was wrong and at the same time they were both right. Pretty much how marriage goes.
Little touches of authenticity throughout the film make it all the more real: the dirty squalor of the kitchen when they both worked at Smith, the typical intellectual competitiveness amongst young students in the scene where they recite Shakespeare faster and faster, and the amount of blankets they have on the bed during the cold Cambridge winter.
Throughout the film, the wintry atmosphere reigns and London, always good looking in films, looks frozen and inaccessible as towards the end, Sylvia's mental state reduces her to the erratic, suicidal woman she became. It's an essay on the tragedy of mental illness, a literary biography, and a tender love story. Definitely worth buying.
on 14 December 2006
There are many differing opinions on the marriage of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and ultimately the makers of `Sylvia' are not going to please everybody. However, the film was not weighted to either Plath's or Hughes' point of view, holding them both up as great poets who had a great connection, however positive or detrimental that might have been. The relationship between Plath and her mother is also beautifully explored, as is the relationship between Plath and poetry. This is not just about the marriage of Ted and Sylvia.
The casting is magnificent. Both Paltrow and Craig give superb performances and the supporting cast are equally commendable. The film is beautifully presented all round. I loved the use of the colours red and blue to indicate different moods (as in Hughes' poem `Red'). The attention to detail (drawind from both Plath's and Hughes' poetry) is astounding.
`Sylvia' is ambitious in what it attempts to convey but I'm not sure the entire audience get the point. I only wish there had been more poetry in it. Watch with an open mind and a hankie.
A wonderful film.
on 12 June 2004
As someone who knows nothing about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes I found this film interesting - entertaining in the form of curiosity, voyerism and sympathy.
It's feel is quite similar to Iris, in that it has an Oxbridge dance near the start, has an informal introduction between the two main characters, and shows (her) mental decline over the subsequent 90 minutes. Some find that unsympathetic and tabloidish, some find it dull, some find it depressing, Plath virgins like myself find it subtle and realistic.
The film for me shows both characters as having faults and inspiration. I read that feminists would not accept any criticism of Plath and blame Hughes for her suicide, but surely such a complex woman deserves responsibility for her actions too, though clearly she has a severe mental illness which, through bitter personal experience, takes an iron clasp to one's emotions and subsequent actions.
There is well crafted tension in the piece, particularly in the dinner scene with their frineds in Devon. All conventions for a quiet English cottage life are taken and then stained with the worst emotion possible to any Englisman - embarressment. The music by Gabriel Yared is, as usual, excellent and wonderfully annotates the film with mood and subtext.
Perhaps it's because I'm uncultured in this area that I didn't have a pre-conception of how the film should be. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe hardly any of it is true to life, but in the end it doesn't matter. This is a movie and in my opinion it delivers.
on 9 January 2010
Much has been written about the marriage of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and I was hoping that this film would give some real insight into their dynamic. Unfortunately it didn't. Also, given the title of the film, I hoped we would be given more of an understanding of Sylvia - her preoccupations and what she may have gone through during her marriage. However, I didn't come away with anything new at all.
I didn't find myself getting emotionally engaged in their life together and didn't find them particularly convincing as a couple. Having said that, Gwyneth Paltrow was excellent as Sylvia, and managed to portray the mounting despair she feels when the words just aren't coming but Daniel Craig's broody Ted was less believable, Perhaps we were supposed to come away with a view of the marriage from her point of view and so her character was more fleshed out. Neither character was particular likeable or sympathetic and, based on this representation alone, I found it hard to care for either of them at all. Perhaps a little more time should have been spent building up the sense of earlier, happier times in order to show us why they couldn't simply move on from one another later in their relationship. As it was, I couldn't understand why they wouldn't just walk away.
The story presented here of the breakdown of a relationship is not usual in it's structure - initial meeting, infatuation, marriage, jealousy, marital affairs, arguments, break up, recriminations. It wasn't particularly visually appealing and didn't make for an interesting film. I had hoped that we would be given the chance to hear more of the actual poetry but the very small segments we did hear were often run into one another to make them virtually impossible to make out. I understand that the estate would not allow more to be used but it does then make you think: "What's the point in making the film?"
on 20 October 2011
You don't have to be familiar with SYLVIA PLATH'S poetry to enjoy this film, which is a sensitive reconstruction of Sylvia's
life and death in England. The opening shot of SYLVIA pedalling furiously towards her Cambridge College catches the mood of her intense, driven attitude to everything -- whatever she did was full tilt, no half measures. And she wanted a man to match: in Ted Hughes she found her soul-mate -- they met and married in a matter of months - four, if I remember correctly.
And who could play this man who would in the distant future become our POET LAUREATE? Daniel Craig, that's who -- he is all forceful conviction and with the presence to match her intensity. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Sylvia with energy, pathos, and conviction. They make a great pair, and together have made a fine film.
on 9 February 2015
Both Paltrow and Craig turn in masterful performances as Plath and Hughes. Both of them have striking likenesses to the characters they portray in real life and produce a film that is accurate and insightful in relation to the actual real story.
Given the subject matter this is a dark and sad film but it couldn't be anything else if it was to be true to the real life story.
if you are studying Plath or Hughes at School or College, then watch this, as it brings the story to life.
Almost a metre and a half of my shelving is devoted to books by or about Plath and Hughes; I approached this film with trepidation, wondering why I was approaching it at all. Having met Hughes, I found Daniel Craig unconvincing but, perhaps, it has more to do with me than Craig; Paltrow's Plath was more convincing but, perhaps, that has more to do with Paltrow. To depict and recreate all the facets of such complex characters on screen is impossible.
Depicting two writers was never going to be easy; it is a lonely, insular and cerebral activity, none of which makes for box-office cinema. Here, I think, lies my problem. Perhaps, I did not know what to expect from the film knowing what to expect of their lives.
As a film, it obviously stands by itself; all films do, good or bad, as an hour and a half's entertainment (or six and a half if it is DW Griffith). To take the lives of two people I feel I know well and depict them on the screen in an attempt to be biographical, that is a different purpose.
My problem is that I am uncertain about whether the film knew what it was attempting, or, perhaps, whether it should have been attempting it. My ambivalence and my rating lie in that. As a film, it is well made, excellent music, fine photography and passionate acting. As a film of their lives, I am much less certain.
on 11 April 2013
A beautifully filmed but skin deep soap opera, Sylvia's like a picture book charting the most important events in Sylvia Plath's life. It's also annoying and tedious in the way it treats her story as romantic melodrama, even suggesting, almost, that she killed herself because she couldn't be with Ted Hughes. The real Plath, I suspect, was much more complicated than this portrayal of her, and as someone who's read her work with great admiration it left me unimpressed. Her poems are dark, tough, witty and beautiful, not the bleatings of a jealous, selfish wife, which this film would have us believe.
The narrative begins with Plath meeting Hughes and ends on her suicide, gliding over everything in-between at a rapid yet somehow sluggish pace. Scenes ticking off people and events succeed each other with no real ebb and flow, so what you get is the biopic equivalent of a greatest hits collection. The film may have been deeper and more powerful if it had focused on a single period of Plath's life, developing its characters within a tight structure. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Plath and Daniel Craig is Hughes. I'm not fond of Paltrow as an actress; there's something haughty and false about her that irritates me. To be fair, though, Craig doesn't do well either, and both of them aren't well-supported by a shallow, monotonous screenplay. The best performance is Blythe Danner's as Aurelia Plath, Sylvia's mother; she portrays her as a quiet, sincere, practical woman, and her acting has the subtlety which everything else about this film lacks. Michael Gambon's also effective in a small role near the end, though his character's too inconsequential to really be noteworthy.
There's not a lot of Plath's and Hughes' poetry here, no doubt for legal reasons, though there isn't even much of anyone else's. John Milton and Geoffrey Chaucer are name checked early on, and there's a scene where Plath and Hughes recite monologues with some friends, but apart from that they mostly just allude to poems without truly discussing them. The filmmakers care more about a tragic love story than art or personalities. Compared to other films about writers, like the excellent Capote, Sylvia's embarrassingly depthless.
The best thing about it is Christine Jeff's direction; she frames her shots beautifully, creating rich, stark and colourful images. But this only serves to distance the images from the content, like an empty box with a painted lid. Sylvia's little more than a Mills&Boon-ish romance; if you want to connect with Hughes and Plath, read their poems. They're much more serious and intelligent than this boring soap.
on 7 March 2016
This film is excellent and Paltrow acts Sylvia Plath just as I always imagine her. And Daniel Craig (James Bond) makes a good Ted Hughes! A very enjoyable piece of work. I loved the little girl at the end, wandering in the farm backyard. What a treasure.
on 15 November 2014
Strangely disappointing. Gwenyth Paltrow's performance is very good. Daniel Craig does his best with a creaky script and a characterisation of Ted Hughes that feels a bit pathetic. He broods and looks handsome but we never see much more than that. This isn't Craig's fault, the screenplay didn't allow him much depth.
The key issues in their marriage seem to have been that he was a womaniser and there's evidence to suggest he was like that from the start rather than at the end of the marriage. And Sylvia had severe mental health issues. As this is Sylvia and Paltrow's film her issues are well explored. His infidelity wasn't though and that was a key factor in making things a lot worse for Sylvia than they might have been had he been more faithful. On the other hand, her vicious and violent behaviour towards him was shown but the effect it had on him was not. She destroyed some of his work, that was shown but really I got no sense of how that must have felt for him. What we got was a violent display of anger - justifiable but easy to misinterpret.
Also Hughes was messing about with more than one woman, he had other lovers Assia and the actress who played her looked nothing and those scenes were 2 dimensional at best. The dinner table tension very hackneyed and cliched. I think it failed to show the complexity of what was going on with Hughes particularly.
It just felt as though the whole thing pulled it's punches in so many areas and if you're going to stick your head in the narrative oven of someone's private world (a marriage) you may as well go the whole hog and really try to pull it apart and examine it.
This film trots through the set pieces we know about the two people involved but there's not much effort to understand what was going on and why.