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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Sylvia

Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig
Director: Christine Jeffs
Rated: R
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: October 2003
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Amira Casar, Blythe Danner, Lucy Davenport, Michael Gambon, Jared Harris, Eliza Wade

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Some say that poetry emerges from unrequited love; that satisfied people lack the motivation to pour out their emotions in verse. Freud trumps even that theory, stating that all creativity emerges from a sexual repression. Sylvia Plath's life is testimonial to both concepts. After having her poems rejected forty-five times, she turns on the full power of her creativity just after her humiliating separation from her husband, Ted. Ironically, the marriage could have been held together had her own work been at least the equal of her husband's; yet she knocked out powerful verses that won her the Pulitzer Prize when she was most miserable, another irony being that the coveted awards and recognition were hers only posthumously.

In a sincere, serious study of her brief life, Christine Jeffs, utilizing John Brownlow's pungent script, finds some humor in this film, a biopic that focuses not on her entire life but on the love between her and Ted Hughes. Given the lack of interest in poetry in our own country, should you mention her name here in reasonably educated circles, the first thought that comes to mind is not her verses in the powerful book of poems "Ariel," not her novel, "The Bell Jar," which was made into a movie by Larry Peerce twenty-four years ago (about the crackup of an overachiever), but the fact that she committed suicide at the age of thirty, a smart, beautiful woman at the height of her creative power.

Boasting a performance by Gwyneth Paltrow as the titled Sylvia Plath and Daniel Craig as her lover and husband Ted Hughes, "Sylvia" is a reasonably compelling story linked to sonorous but intrusive music, but serves even more as a cynical sociology professor's lesson on how marriage can cripple love. The rapport between Sylvia and Ted at their initial meeting as students in England's Cambridge College is electric. The couple kiss passionately on the dance floor just an hour or so after they meet. But Ted's charisma and success as a poet attract a number of young women, his meeting in a courtyard with one of them convincing his beautiful wife that she has married a wanderer. When Ted is flat-out caught having an affair with best friend Assia Wevill (Amira Casar), his straying, adding an imposing psychological burden on the yet unsuccessful Sylvia, proves devastating. Their move to Devon and London from Massachusetts, where Sylvia's mother Aurelia Plath (Blythe Danner) commands her new son-in-law to be good to the fragile Sylvia, had proven disastrous. Though the couple produced two children, Ted's inability to keep his pants zipped leads to a break-up and, in the midst of one of the coldest, dreariest Londons in memory, she ends her life by gas.

Some of the film has the look of a Masterpiece Theatre production not a compliment and needs more uplift such as that provided by the witty and caring Professor Thomas (Michael Gambon), Sylvia's neighbor, and could use more opening up by developing the poet's hint to critic Al Alvarez (Jared Harris) that she would like to take up with a lover. The audience will leave the film with new insight into Plath's tormented state, perhaps discussing whether her suicide is more a result of a chemical depression (she attempted to take her life with pills years before), or of her frightening aloneness after separating from Ted. In either case, we are reinforced in what we already know: that good looks, smarts, and children are no barrier to depression.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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