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Sylvia (2003)

R  |   |  Biography, Drama, Romance  |  31 October 2003 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.3/10 from 8,633 users   Metascore: 56/100
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Story of the relationship between the poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
David Birkin ...
Alison Bruce ...
Assia Wevill
James Michie
Jeremy Fowlds ...
Mr. Robinson
Professor Thomas
Ted's Cambridge Girlfriend
David Wevill
Theresa Healey ...
3rd Woman at Ted Hughes' Lecture
Liddy Holloway ...
Martha Bergstrom
1st Woman at Ted Hughes' Lecture


In 1956, aspiring American poet Sylvia Plath meets fellow poet Edward Ted Hughes at Cambridge, where she is studying. Enthralled with the genius of his writing, Sylvia falls in love with him even before meeting him, and he quickly falls in love with her. They eventually marry. Sylvia quickly learns that others are also enthralled with her husband, for a combination of his good looks, charisma, fame and success. Sylvia lives in her husband's professional shadow as she tries to eke out her own writing career, which doesn't come as naturally to her as it does to Ted. She also suspects him of chronic infidelity. Both issues affect Sylvia's already fragile emotional state, she who once tried to commit suicide earlier in her life. Through her pain and her anger, she does gain minor success as a writer, with a completed semi-autobiographical novel and a few well received collection of poems. Following, she tries to regain some happiness in her life with Ted, but has an alternate plan if that... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Life was too small to contain her...

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for sexuality/nudity and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:



Release Date:

31 October 2003 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Ted and Sylvia  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


£7,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$58,940 (USA) (17 October 2003)


$12,583 (Hong Kong) (25 June 2004)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


During some of the filming, Gwyneth Paltrow stayed in Q staircase of Tree Court, Gonville & Caius College as this was minutes away from the mocked-up old street at the back of Caius. See more »


When Ted Hughes removes his tie, his collar jumps from buttoned (closed) to unbuttoned (open). See more »


[first lines]
Sylvia: Sometimes I dream the tree, and the tree is my life. One branch is the man I shall marry, and the leaves my children. Another branch is my future as a writer, and each leaf is a poem. Another branch is a good academic career. But as I sit there trying to choose, the leaves bring to turn brown and blow away, until the tree is absolutely bare.
See more »

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User Reviews

OK bio but misses some of the spirit of the subject
22 November 2004 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

What is it about an artist dying young - particularly if it is at his or her own hands - that strikes such a deep chord in so many of us? Is it the fact that this rare and special person achieves a kind of mastery of fate at the last moment, a perfect conclusion to this messy business of life that we mere mortals can never hope to attain? Could it be that this early death is just one more instance of an artist taking the elements of raw reality and transforming them into something stylized, transcendent and meaningful for the rest of us to brood over and contemplate? When poet and novelist Sylvia Plath committed suicide in 1963, she became the archetype of the tortured artist - particularly for sensitive young people who came to romanticize her end and her suffering in ways that lifted her and her work to iconic status.

The biopic, entitled simply 'Sylvia,' gets the 'tortured' part pretty much right, but has considerably less success with the 'artist.'

The film focuses mainly on the tumultuous relationship between Plath and her husband of eight years, famed poet Ted Hughes. The story begins in 1956 with their love-at-first-sight meeting when they were both students at Cambridge University. The film moves quickly through the years, showing how, after a short period of relative marital bliss, Ted's philandering began to take its toll on the relationship. As portrayed in the movie, Sylvia, despite her notable talent, is a mass of neuroses and insecurities, always toiling in the shadows of her (initially at least) much more well known and commercially successful husband. But her feelings of inadequacy and jealousy over Ted's infidelities cannot, in and of themselves, entirely account for her paranoia, her outbursts of anger and her suicidal tendencies. Those resulted mainly from the clinical depression that tormented the woman from the time of her father's death early in her childhood to her own tragic end. The movie sidesteps the electroshock therapy Plath underwent at various times in her life (though it very subtly hints at them), yet the film still manages to convey just how great a victim she was of this disease she could not overcome.

Thanks to John Brownlow's rather singlemindedly depressing screenplay, there's a tremendous feeling of sadness hovering over the film. Director Christine Jeffs brings a raw intensity to many of the confrontation scenes involving the pain-wracked, benighted couple. As Sylvia and Ted, Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig give rich, moving and sensitive performances, and Michael Gambon leaves his mark as a sympathetic neighbor who tries but does not succeed at saving Sylvia.

If there is a flaw in 'Sylvia,' it is one common to films that attempt to portray the lives of artists, particularly writers. Although a scenarist can dramatize the details of an artist's life, it is virtually impossible for him to capture the richness and power of the art itself in the different medium of film. We never get the sense of how Sylvia either overcomes the difficulties of her life to succeed in her writing or how she uses those difficulties to enhance her art. What we do get is a few shots of Sylvia sitting in front of a typewriter, a comment or two about a book that has been or is soon to be published, a few references to critical reviews, and a smattering of voice-over recitations of Plath's poetry. What we don't get and what it is virtually impossible for film to capture is the essence of the writing itself. For this, one needs to return to the source material, the works that have lived on after the woman herself all these years. If the movie inspires new people to explore Sylvia Plath's writing, it will not have been in vain

56 of 58 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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