Gwynneth Platrow, Daniel Craig. Directed by Christine Jeffs
Running Time:

Over the decades, Sylvia Plath's reputation as a poet has continued to increase. Her posthumous book of poetry was edited and published by her estranged husband, Ted Hughes and her novel, The Bell Jar, became a bestseller and a film in the 1980s. This is her story.

Most audiences will know that Sylvia Plath killed herself with gas from her oven in February 1963. They will also know that her more celebrated poet husband, Ted Hughes, was blamed for her depression and death and kept silence about his relationship until a book of poems in 1998, shortly before he died of cancer. He had been Poet Laureate since 1984.

This film takes us back to Cambridge in the mid-1950s when American student, Sylvia, first met Ted, won over by his poetry and swept off his feet by his manner (after he had reviewed her poems unfavourably). It shows their courtship and marriage (despite the hestitations of Sylvia's mother) and their living in the US for three years while they both taught.

Already Sylvia was affected emotionally by the women who flocked around Ted. On their return to England, they started a family but Sylvia's feeling she could not write creatively and Ted's infidelity led to her despair.

It is not so much a film where we want to know what is going to happen next. We know that. Rather, we are continually asking why it happened, trying to understand characters, the tension of personality clashes, situations of love and betrayal.

Director is New Zealander Christine Jeffs (Rain) who brings an un-Hollywood seriousness and plainness to her treatment of John Brownlow's screenplay.

She re-creates the period effectively both in England and in the US so that we enter into the drama rather than merely observe it. Gwynneth Paltrow is intense as Sylvia and her interpretation of a difficult woman who makes life even more difficult remains in the memory. Daniel Craig's Ted Hughes is a rough and ready poet who exercises charm and gets entangled by it, loving Sylvia but wearied by her emotional demands and easily succumbing to relationships with other women.

The basic nature of the plot is commonplace but, when it is a look at public figures, it is intriguing and puzzling.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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