8.0/10
6,464
69 user 12 critic

Sybil 

A young woman whose childhood was so harrowing to her that she developed sixteen different personalities is treated by a doctor.
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4,951 ( 73)

Episodes

Seasons


Years



1  
1976  
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 6 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete series cast summary:
Joanne Woodward ...  Dr. Cornelia Wilbur 2 episodes, 1976
Sally Field ...  Sybil 2 episodes, 1976
Brad Davis ...  Richard 2 episodes, 1976
Martine Bartlett ...  Hattie 2 episodes, 1976
Jane Hoffman Jane Hoffman ...  Frieda Dorsett 2 episodes, 1976
Charles Lane ...  Dr. Quinoness 2 episodes, 1976
Jessamine Milner Jessamine Milner ...  Grandma Dorsett 2 episodes, 1976
William Prince ...  Willard Dorsett 2 episodes, 1976
Penelope Allen ...  Miss Penny 2 episodes, 1976
Camila Ashland ...  Cam 2 episodes, 1976
Tommy Crebbs Tommy Crebbs ...  Matthew 2 episodes, 1976
Gina Petrushka Gina Petrushka ...  Dr. Lazarus 2 episodes, 1976
Harold Pruett Harold Pruett ...  Danny 2 episodes, 1976
Natasha Ryan ...  Child Sybil 2 episodes, 1976
Paul Tulley Paul Tulley ...  Dr. Castle 2 episodes, 1976
Anne Beesley ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
Virginia Campbell Virginia Campbell ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
Missy Karn Missy Karn ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
Tasha Lee Tasha Lee ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
Cathy Lynn Lesko Cathy Lynn Lesko ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
Rachel Longaker Rachel Longaker ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
Jennifer McAllister Jennifer McAllister ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
Kerry Muir Kerry Muir ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
Karen Obediear Karen Obediear ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
Tony Sherman Tony Sherman ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
Danny Stevenson Danny Stevenson ...  The Selves 2 episodes, 1976
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Storyline

The story tells of a young woman admitting to having blackouts, fearing they are getting worse. She is diagnosed as suffering from multiple personalities, as a result of severe abuse at the hands of her mother, whom her psychiatrist, Cornelia Wilbur, believes was schizophrenic. The movie Sibyl is based upon author Flora Rheta Schreiber's biography of Shirley Ardell Mason, an American psychiatric patient, suffering from multiple personality disorder. The book, also called Sibyl, was in its turn based largely on the actual accounts of psychiatric treatment that Shirley Ardell Mason underwent, documented by American psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur Written by Jim Berg

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Certificate:

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Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?

Trivia

Anthony Page was the original director but was replaced by Daniel Petrie before filming began in New York City. See more »

Goofs

On the day Sybil meets Dr. Wilbur, just before she "awakens" in the doctor's office we see a close shot of Dr. Wilbur's right hand as she takes notes. There is a ring on the doctor's right index finger. Then we switch immediately to wider shot of the doctor still writing, but there is no longer a ring on her right hand. It is clear that there was no break in writing between the shots. See more »

Quotes

Dr. Cornelia Wilbur: Is it fun talking like a little girl, Ms. Dorsett?
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Alternate Versions

The original TV-version ran two nights for a total of four hours (198 minutes minus the commercials). Most video copies are pared down in length, one running 122 minutes and another "expanded" to 132 minutes. Both these versions are missing key scenes such as:
  • The introduction of of the alternate personality "Vanessa"
  • Sybil's first date with Richard
  • Her recollection of her childhood sweetheart.
  • Sybil dissociating into the personality of an infant, leading to Dr. Wilbur's memorable statements "My god Sybil, what did that monster do to you? What happened in the green kitchen?"
  • Dr. Wilbur confronting Willard Dorsett over him having left his daughter in the care of such an obvious and dangerously disturbed woman as Hattie
  • Sybil's two male personalities arguing with Dr. Wilbur about them being able to father children
  • Sybil finally confronting and learning to accept all of her personalities while under hypnosis
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Duet: Lady on a Grate (1988) See more »

User Reviews

 
Vivid, unsettling true story given enormous stature by Joanne Woodward and Emmy-winning Sally Field.
18 April 2001 | by gbrumburghSee all my reviews

How does one survive, much less overcome, long-standing child abuse? Newscasts are littered with the more unusual, horrific stories - children imprisoned in closets or chained to beds with little more than food or water; tiny children dying in hot, sweltering autos or stuffed into car trunks while a parent works. In yesterday's paper alone, an archbishop of a progressive church was charged with the strangulation of a 15-year-old girl he sexually assaulted for years, while on the opposite page a woman and her boyfriend were charged with beating two of her children with a metal pipe, their battered bodies bearing the marks of years of abuse. How does a child get through this WHILE IT IS HAPPENING? Somehow, some way they MUST build up some sort of mental toughness or defense mechanism to combat the agony and fear - either by tuning out or systematically shutting down -- going into deep states of denial and emotional withdrawal. And then there is Sybil Dorsett...

Sally Field is unforgettable as the titular victim of incessant child abuse, a woman who dissolved into SIXTEEN separate and distinct personalities in order to cope with a mother who inflicted indescribable childhood tortures. She is nothing short of amazing, especially in her "dissociative" scenes as she morphs with lightning speed into one or more of her "inner family" -- a combative, self-assertive Peggy Lou, a mothering but suicidal Mary, a vivacious, ambitious Vicky, a frightened, thumb-sucking Sybil Ann, or even an athletically-inclined Mike. All of them personalities created and programmed unconsciously by Sybil to endure any situation she herself couldn't handle, and triggered by almost anything -- a hostile argument, piano music, certain colors, street sounds, even a word.

What is incredible about Field's performance as Sybil (not her real name) is the ability to tear down her own barriers to such an extent that she can revert into a flood of strange babblings or shockingly infantile behavior at the drop of a hat. It is such a compelling and all-consuming feat that these scenes come off almost improvisatory in style. One particular marvel of a scene has Sybil's psychologist discovering her patient, an artist by nature, lodged under a piano taken over by one of her more immature personalities, tormented by thunderous sounds of Dvorak and Beethoven, illustrating her torment on paper with brightly-colored crayons. It is to director Daniel Petrie's credit that he was able to create such a safe environment for Field to let herself go like this. With "Sybil," Field, who won an Emmy, forever dispelled any theories that she was a one-note actress trapped with a Gidget-like cuteness.

In an ironic bit of casting, Joanne Woodward essays the role of Sybil's psychologist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, who finally pinpoints Sybil's mental disability and starts her on the long, arduous journey of putting the "selves" back together. Woodward won an Academy Award decades earlier as a similar victim of MPD (multiple personality disorder) in a curious but ultimately heavy-handed and very dated film "The Three Faces of Eve." Woodward is superb here as a professional clearly out of her element but determined to find a light at the end of the tunnel for this poor, unfortunate girl.

The late Brad Davis, as an unsuspecting acquaintance who wants to get to know Sybil better, adds a tender, sympathetic chapter to Sybil's turbulent life, while William Prince and Jane Hoffman are compelling as Sybil's bloodless father and stepmother who offer puzzling, ignorant explanations to Sybil's "problem." Charles Lane has a significant scene as Sybil's small-town doctor (as a child) who failed to report his examination findings, and little Natasha Ryan, in flashback sequences, must be commended for reenacting the more harrowing details of Sybil's childhood torment. Jessamine Milner as Sybil's grandmother has a few affecting moments as a doting grandma who offers Sybil brief moments of respite.

However, the most chilling portrait of evil you'll ever witness on TV goes hands down to stocky, harsh-looking Martine Bartlett as Sybil's monster of a mother. She lends horrifying believability to the fragmented, unbalanced woman who gets sadistic pleasure out of her routine torturous acts. Bartlett, a respected stage actress little seen on film, was known for another bizarre but fascinating screen role as a crazy, self-abusing mental patient in "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden." As Hattie Dorsett, she displays subtle, calculating menace, which makes her even more terrifying, as she devises a number of "games" to inflict on her only child. Some of these scenes are extremely repelling and graphic in nature, but it is all handled as responsibly as possible, considering the actual incidents DID occur.

Hopefully seeing this dark, disturbing, but ultimately important TV-movie will inspire you to read Flora Rheta Schreiber's best selling book, which details Sybil's childhood, blackout episodes (the real Sybil once woke up finding out she had missed the entire sixth grade(!), therapy sessions, the battle of alter-egos for control of Sybil, and the subsequent unifying process, through the professional vantage point of Dr. Wilbur and with more depth. Trust me, you won't be able to put it down and you'll never question the boundaries and/or consequences of child abuse again.

WARNING - Don't rent the confusing, chopped-up two-hour version, also available on tape. This was a two-part, over three-hour long drama when initially shown and THIS version is what rates a "10."


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

14 November 1976 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Sybil See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Lorimar Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

(original television) | (theatrical) | (DVD)

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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