Film review: Sylvia

Published: Friday, Nov. 21 2003 7:53 a.m. MST

Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Sylvia Plath in "Sylvia," which explores the relationship of Plath and her husband, poet Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig).

Associated Press

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"Sylvia" is a lot less poetic than its subject, the late author Sylvia Plath.

In fact, if this biographical drama is anything like Plath, it's because it, too, is sullen, moody and more than just a little depressing.

However, it's hard to say whether living with Plath was as completely oyless as the movie makes it appear.

The overwhelmingly dark tone and bleak subject matter make this one of the most difficult-to-watch films in recent memory. To say it's a bummer is to understate — although it does feature fine performances by British actor Daniel Craig and by Gwyneth Paltrow, who stars as Plath.

The film centers on the troubled relationship of Plath and her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes (Craig). Though Plath suffered from depression and attempted suicide at least twice before meeting Hughes, their union initially appears to be good for both of them.

However, that happiness is short-lived. Hughes is already an acclaimed writer, and they move to the United States, but neither of them seems to be able to write there. And the film tries to make the case that Plath's best writing may have been fueled by her jealousy regarding Hughes' critical acclaim, as well as her suspicions about his infidelities, real and imagined.

New Zealand filmmaker Christine Jeffs creates an atmosphere that's oppressively downbeat, and while you don't expect Plath's story to be a happy one, at least a little humor would have been nice. Further complicating things is a musical score (by Gabriel Yared) that swells in advance of each dramatic story development.

Both Paltrow and Craig are superb. Paltrow loses herself completely in the role, which is the stuff that awards — or at least award nominations — are made of.

Which is not meant to slight the supporting cast, which includes the always-solid Jared Harris, Michael Gambon and Blythe Danner, Paltrow's real-life mother, who plays, predictably, Plath's mother.

"Sylvia" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity, simulated sex, brief female nudity, brief drug content (prescription drug use and talk of abuse), use of crude English slang terms and brief domestic violence (slapping). Running time: 100 minutes.


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