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
The first film in which real-life mother and daughter Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow play mother and daughter (Aurelia and Sylvia Plath) respectively. Danner and Paltrow previously starred together in Cruel Doubt (1992), but not as mother and daughter. See more »
When Ted Hughes removes his tie, his collar jumps from buttoned (closed) to unbuttoned (open). See more »
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.
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Frustrated Poetess on the Cusp of "The Feminine Mystique"
"Sylvia" is not quite just a slow, straightforward bio-pic of poet Sylvia Plath. While screenwriter John Brownlow has a long background in TV documentaries, director Christine Jeffs has previously made a young woman's mental disquiet dreamily visual in the superb New Zealand film "Rain."
She has her "Rain" cinematographer John Toon bathe the entire film in a nostalgia-tinged amber glow, like the extended flashbacks to the young lovers in the Australian film "Innocence." I think the point is to determinedly place Plath and her husband poet Ted Hughes into their specific time at the cusp before "The Feminine Mystique" put a name to Plath's frustrations and contradictions as a Fulbright scholar - experimental poet turned wife and mother who ultimately turned on herself. ("Mona Lisa's Smile" with Julia Roberts will evidently be dealing with a parallel time and place in a much more Hollywood interpretation.)
As played alternatively languid and aggressive by Gwyneth Paltrow and a Byronic Daniel Craig, they are an actively sensual couple, but notably not Bohemian. They are part of an intellectual but not counter-cultural set. While they are competing for editors' accolades and print space, she's setting her hair, arranging her pearls and cleaning house, like a proper Smith graduate of the time who is perfectly at home visiting her Boston mother (played by real-life mom Blythe Danner) and amidst the books of her late bee scholar father (My friend the PhD in English tells me that the original film title of "The Bee-Keeper's Daughter" would have been fraught with much more significance about Plath's obsessions.)
Hughes celebrates his first big break by asking her to marry him and kids follow one after the other; when they need money he looks to write a children's series for the BBC. Yes, she gets more and more difficult and paranoid, but he is having affairs (and another child) as he attracts more fawning women acolytes.
An earlier suicide effort is referenced a couple of times yet her increasingly heightened mental imbalance as shown here could be post-partum depressions or a Laingian response that insanity is the only rational response to an insane, unfair world. (The film does not seem to side with her loyalist cult which Margaret Atwood satirizes in "The Blind Assassin").
It is always difficult to show a writer at work, but I would have liked to hear more of her poetry than a few passing sentences.
Gabriel Yared's music is lovely and unsentimental.
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