Sylvia

on October 17, 2003 by Francesca Dinglasan
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As an unrelentingly somber take on the final seven years of arguably the most significant female voice in 20th-century American poetry, "Sylvia" is probably best left for the poet's legions of feminist and literary-minded fans who expect nothing less than bleak seriousness in the biopic of their beloved writer. Though beautifully shot and awash with gray hues and settings that appropriately capture the suicidal disposition of the film's subject, the sophomore effort of director Christine Jeffs ("Rain") is simply too desolate for audiences unfamiliar with Plath's notorious anguish.

The film picks up Plath's life in 1956, three years after the suicide attempt that she famously chronicled in the 1963 novel "The Bell Jar." In England as a Fulbright scholar, Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) meets upcoming poet Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig), who engages her in a whirlwind romance that, after just four months, leads to their marriage. An idyllic beginning marked by mutual encouragement for each other's writing breaks down with the passing years, giving way to Plath's anger and jealousy--both at her husband's critical and commercial success, which overshadows her own poetic accomplishments, and his extramarital affair. Hughes' decision to leave his wife and their two children for another woman results in a period of intense creative output for Plath and what is generally considered her most electrifying poetry--as well as her eventual suicide.

Meticulous attention to detail, from the '50s-era clothing to the perfect recreation of Plath's changing hairstyles, is evident throughout "Sylvia," and Paltrow is convincing in capturing the poet's emotional highs and lows. Moreover, Craig's restrained portrayal of Hughes and Blythe Danner's depiction of Aurelia Plath, who represent opposing forces in Sylvia's life, skillfully avoid the respective traps of domineering, villainous husband and overprotective parent, favorite caricatures among Plath's most sympathetic biographers.

The film's bleakness, however, remains simply overpowering, from the opening quote of Plath's late poem "Lady Lazarus" ("Dying/Is an art, like everything else./I do it exceptionally well./I do it so it feels like hell") to her last lonely moments preparing breakfast for her two infant children before her suicide. And for those uninitiated to the angst that is Sylvia Plath, "Sylvia," despite the filmmakers' most respectful, and at times exquisite, efforts, offers no answers. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, Blythe Danner and Michael Gambon. Directed by Christine Jeffs. Written by John Brownlow. Produced by Alison Owen. A Focus release. Drama. Rated R for sexuality/nudity and language. Running time: 110 min

Tags: Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, Blythe Danner and Michael Gambon. Directed by Christine Jeffs, Written by John Brownlow, Produced by Alison Owen, Focus, Drama
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