Directed by Christine Jeffs, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, Blythe Danner and Michael Gambon.
Sylvia Plath was a brilliant poet who only won a Pulitzer Prize almost 20 years after her death; a devoted mother who killed herself while her children slept in a nearby room; a woman who found the love of her life and, in the pain of losing him, unlocked a creative well within. Like all members of this imperfect human race, she was a mass of contradictions - a far cry from the feminist ideal that was imposed upon her after her death.
To its credit, Christine Jeffs' biopic 'Sylvia' does not shy away from these contradictions and the film is all the better for its unflattering but even-handed portraits of the central characters: Sylvia herself (Paltrow) and her husband, the celebrated poet Ted Hughes (Craig).
Opening in the grey surrounds of 1950s Cambridge, Sylvia is introduced as a bold, bright and somewhat brash American. As if the film was in as much of a rush as Sylvia, we're directly thrust into her first intense meeting with Ted Hughes, already a leading light of the Cambridge poetry scene. By way of goodbye, she bites his cheek. This impassioned encounter sets the tone for their subsequent romance and marriage just four months later - but it was a fairytale that turned into a nightmare.
The carefree beginnings - Sylvia declaiming Chaucer's 'Wife of Bath' from a punt to a group of intrigued cows, drunken poetry speed-recitations with friends - are underscored by the shadow of her earlier suicide attempt and their married life is interrupted with accusations of infidelity. Ted, rapidly becoming a successful poet, has women flocking to him while Sylvia struggles with her own work. Not content to bask in her husband's reflected glory, she is frustrated by words that do not come and, with the arrival of their two children, the exhaustion of domesticity.
Gwyneth Paltrow has the resemblance and WASP credentials to make a credible hand of Plath but she is too much the ice-queen to truly portray the passionate poet. Daniel Craig also has a difficult job to walk in Ted Hughes' shoes yet both actors manage to make their characters sympathetic even when their behaviour is outrageous - Sylvia's professional and sexual jealousy, Ted's promiscuity.
Dark, bleak and depressing, 'Sylvia' is no walk in the park but an emotionally charged picture of a terminally volatile relationship which produced some masterful poetry - particularly Plath's posthumously published 'Ariel' and 'The Birthday Letters' in which Hughes broke his silence about their marriage some 35 years after her death. Their words live on; this film can but be an addendum to that. Grim, but ultimately worthwhile.