Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Sylvia & Ted. Ted & Sylvia. Sylvia by herself. Ted somewhere else. Babies. Other women. Poems, poems, poems. Bees, autumn, the branches of trees. Immortality? The Bell Jar ("A potboiler," she laughs). Ariel. Books to die for. Literally.

Sylvia Plath became a feminist icon. She died young; she killed herself. She was married to an insatiable philanderer, called Edward Hughes, who understood the power of the perceived image, a long-haired poet who hid himself away in the country, being mysterious and darkly threatening, creating language that stirred the juices of middle-class romantics up and down the land.

The film is not about him; it's about her. Essentially a biopic that avoids the modern craze of time shuffling flashbacks, New Zealand director Christine Jeffs takes the legend of a maniacally depressed scorned woman, who bled her rage into a slim volume of soul-bruised poetry, and shakes the bull dung out of it. What remains is far from flattering.

Sylvia was American.

"I was always happy until I was nine years old," she remembers. "I was in one piece. And then my father died."

She met Ted at university, pursued him, married him, baked cakes for him, watched him work, felt jealous of everything ("Sometimes I feel that I am hollow"), watched the eyes of pretty students gather him up, howled in sickening lonliness, burnt his letters and papers, had babies, couldn't cope, couldn't write, as fame laid a fair hand on his shoulder and led him away.

If you don't know the mythology of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, this is a film about writing and fighting.

"Pick a subject," he says, "and stick your head in it."

He is disciplined, conscientious, writes in longhand, draft after draft. She sits at the typewriter, frozen by a sense of failure.

"My trouble is I don't have a subject."

She feels sorry for herself, as much as she feels cheated of happiness, hating him for destroying her trust, loving him for what he can no longer be, hers alone.

The film captures the badly lit, gloss painted, cigarette stained gloom of post graduate London in 1960, as well as the mud wet, stone cold, wellie booted isolation of a Devon farm cottage.

Gwyneth Paltrow gives a brave, uncompromised performance that does not shrink from the self-possessed obsessions of a selfish mind. Daniel Craig perfectly reflects Hughes's physical presence and animal intensity. There isn't enough of him.

"Why can't you ever be pleased for me?" Sylvia whines to her mother.

At the end, naked on a bare sofa, she hangs her head, defeated

Sylvia & Ted. Ted & Sylvia.


Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2004
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The psychologically damaging marriage of two poets in the Sixties.
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Director: Christine Jeffs

Writer: John Brownlow

Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, Blythe Danner, Michael Gambon, Amira Casar, Andrew Havill

Year: 2003

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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