Director Christine Jeffs takes the heartbreaking story of writer Sylvia Plath’s life and suicide (which has taken on mythological significance in certain literary circles) and renders it in a palette of surprising beauty. The film paints the story in dark greens, reds and the arresting blues of a recurring water motif. Dealing less with the professional lives of Plath and her husband Edward “Ted” Hughes, and delving more deeply into their notoriously tempestuous marriage, SYLVIA takes risks by attempting to portray what both Plath’s family and Hughes (until just before his death in 1998) have remained extremely quiet about. John Brownlow’s screenplay fingers no villain, painting both Hughes and Plath as flawed and complex.
Beginning in England in 1956, the film depicts American poet Sylvia (Gwyneth Paltrow)–who has a history of depression and suicide attempts–attending Cambridge University on a Fulbright Scholarship. While at a party, she meets Ted (Daniel Craig), a dashing student and fellow poet. The chemistry between them is electric, and they become immediately inseparable, their mutual love of verse the glue that holds them together. But Sylvia’s success in her art gives way to jealous madness as other women lavish their attentions on Ted. Her subsequent descent into the deepest of depressions leads to her suicide in 1962. In this stirring film, Paltrow hits a high note in her career with her portrayal of Sylvia.