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
Sylvia Plath's daughter and literary executor, Frieda Hughes, not only refused to cooperate with the producers or allow them access to her mother's poetry, but also publicly denounced the project in a published poem of her own. See more »
The film does to Plath just what it says the world did to her when she was alive
As a young woman, poetess Sylvia Plath meets the fiery Ted Hughes because of one of his poems catching her eye and deeply impressing her. So begins their life together that continues with marriage and the inevitable onset of domestication. As a woman this affects Sylvia more than it seems to affect Ted and she finds herself struggling to write as she balances home life with working as a teacher. Things are made worse by Ted, who has the first of many affairs with a student from Sylvia's class. As the pressures of family and children going to grow, so does Sylvia's mistrust of Ted and paranoia over his behaviour.
When a film is loudly disowned by the child of the subject you do have to approach it with a certain amount of caution and, although I'm not sure why Frieda Hughes took against it, I suspect it is because of the very event-based approach of this film. In a film that shows us how Sylvia was pushed down and had her talent smothered one way or another, it is ironic that the script does something similar by failing to let us understand her poetry, her character or her talent. Instead what we are treated to is a story that shows her being oppressed and beaten down. Now I accept that this is supposedly essentially true, but by ignoring her fame I imagine that this could be seen as just piling more on top of the lot she had while she was alive. It also has the effect of turning a biopic into a relationship melodrama that slowly plods along, pushing Plath down until the ending we know is coming. It is still reasonably interesting but I didn't feel that I learnt anything specific about Plath other than the fact that she was with a man that wasn't particularly good for her which puts her in the company of a lot of woman; the difference between her and them was her poetry but the film doesn't seem too bothered about this.
The upside of this is that Paltrow is best in the role when she is being downtrodden and oppressed; when she is asked to do something other than this then she seems less sure of her character and is less able at least depressed she seems to know what is required of her. Craig is as reliable as usual and does well even if his character is not exactly layered or that complex. The support is mostly pretty good, although I didn't understand what attracted Michael Gambon to such a small role, but the film pretty much belongs to Paltrow, who takes to her downtrodden well.
Overall this was an average film that plays out like a relationship melodrama and didn't do much to help me understand the character or talent of Plath other than showing me what happened within her relationship with Hughes. I can understand why her children objected to this simplification of their mother because personally I would not want to be remembered for my suffering if I had such talent. Paltrow and Craig are both good with the relationship material but the film should have been much better than it was.
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