Sylvia (2003)

It is a sad truth, though hardly ever spoken, the finest of poets cannot live well off the earnings of their labor. While the short life of the brilliant Sylvia Plath had other obstacles, most certainly meager funds added to the misery that brought about her suicide. Tragically ironic, as well, almost to the very end, her work steadily improved, almost in eulogy to that of Doestoiyefski (she had written an acknowledged paper on the novelist as an undergraduate,) as if suffering increased inspiration.

In regard to biographical trueness, John Brownlow’s script under direction of Christine Jeffs allows this film, Sylvia, to accurately portray the life of a rare poet whose intellect and poetic sensitivity will grace both American and English literature for generations to come. The fine performances of Gwyneth Paltrow, as Sylvia Plath, and Daniel Craig, as her husband and fellow poet, Ted Hughes, are compelling, with contrasting intensity exceedingly well interpreted.

The film’s portrayal tends to suggest Plath may have needed such stress as a philandering husband to achieve her success. But then this cannot be known since the lady may have never been free of the jealousy depicted and had attempted suicide before after the death of her father. In possession of these considerations, Mr. Hughes’ extra-marital exploits become even more odious to the viewer.

Since most references are made to her best known poem, Ariel, this reviewer will illustrate another.

                           “The spirit of blackness is in us, it is in the fishes”


                                     “This is the silence of astounded souls.”

                                                                            …..excerpted from, Crossing the River

The gifts of intonation in the subtle internal rhyme is an almost unique Plath attribute and one we see working in these two lines, with the first sounding an almost cadence with, “is in us” with “fishes”.

To accomplish such grace without seeming contrived, is the mark of a great poet.

A wonderful biography set in a storyline that attempts to be truthful AND about a most remarkable lady. Though its emphasis and how it might support feminism on the one hand can be one interpretation, on the other (hand) we have a person far more complex and resourceful to be anyone’s martyr.

Intense love scenes, partial nudity but highly tasteful. And highly recommended.

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