January 16th, 2004



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Still of Gwyneth Paltrow and Blythe Danner in SylviaStill of Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig in SylviaStill of Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig in SylviaDaniel Craig and Christine Jeffs in SylviaStill of Gwyneth Paltrow in SylviaStill of Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig in Sylvia

Story of the relationship between the poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

Release Year: 2003

Rating: 6.1/10 (5,247 voted)

Critic's Score: 56/100

Director: Christine Jeffs

Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Lucy Davenport

In 1956, aspiring American poet

David Birkin - Morecambe
Alison Bruce - Elizabeth
Amira Casar - Assia Wevill
Daniel Craig - Ted Hughes
Blythe Danner - Aurelia Plath
Lucy Davenport - Doreen
Julian Firth - James Michie
Jeremy Fowlds - Mr. Robinson
Michael Gambon - Professor Thomas
Sarah Guyler - Ted's Cambridge Girlfriend
Jared Harris - Al Alvarez
Andrew Havill - David Wevill
Theresa Healey - 3rd Woman at Ted Hughes' Lecture
Liddy Holloway - Martha Bergstrom
Robyn Malcolm - 1st Woman at Ted Hughes' Lecture

Taglines: Life was too small to contain her...


Official Website: Focus Features |

Release Date: 16 January 2004

Filming Locations: Cornwall, England, UK

Box Office Details

Budget: £7,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $58,940 (USA) (19 October 2003) (3 Screens)

Gross: $1,302,242 (USA) (21 December 2003)

Technical Specs

Runtime:  | USA:  | Canada:

Did You Know?

Sylvia Plath's daughter and literary executor, Frieda Hughes, not only refused to cooperate with the producers or allow them access to her mother's poetry, but also publicly denounced the project in a published poem of her own.

Errors made by characters (possibly deliberate errors by the filmmakers): Ted Hughes is already wearing a band on his left ring finger when he asks Sylvia Plath to marry him.

Professor Thomas: The government cut the electricity.
Sylvia: Why?
Professor Thomas: To build national character!

User Review

OK bio but misses some of the spirit of the subject


What is it about an artist dying young - particularly if it is at his or her own hands - that strikes such a deep chord in so many of us? Is it the fact that this rare and special person achieves a kind of mastery of fate at the last moment, a perfect conclusion to this messy business of life that we mere mortals can never hope to attain? Could it be that this early death is just one more instance of an artist taking the elements of raw reality and transforming them into something stylized, transcendent and meaningful for the rest of us to brood over and contemplate? When poet and novelist Sylvia Plath committed suicide in 1963, she became the archetype of the tortured artist - particularly for sensitive young people who came to romanticize her end and her suffering in ways that lifted her and her work to iconic status.

The biopic, entitled simply 'Sylvia,' gets the 'tortured' part pretty much right, but has considerably less success with the 'artist.'

The film focuses mainly on the tumultuous relationship between Plath and her husband of eight years, famed poet Ted Hughes. The story begins in 1956 with their love-at-first-sight meeting when they were both students at Cambridge University. The film moves quickly through the years, showing how, after a short period of relative marital bliss, Ted's philandering began to take its toll on the relationship. As portrayed in the movie, Sylvia, despite her notable talent, is a mass of neuroses and insecurities, always toiling in the shadows of her (initially at least) much more well known and commercially successful husband. But her feelings of inadequacy and jealousy over Ted's infidelities cannot, in and of themselves, entirely account for her paranoia, her outbursts of anger and her suicidal tendencies. Those resulted mainly from the clinical depression that tormented the woman from the time of her father's death early in her childhood to her own tragic end. The movie sidesteps the electroshock therapy Plath underwent at various times in her life (though it very subtly hints at them), yet the film still manages to convey just how great a victim she was of this disease she could not overcome.

Thanks to John Brownlow's rather singlemindedly depressing screenplay, there's a tremendous feeling of sadness hovering over the film. Director Christine Jeffs brings a raw intensity to many of the confrontation scenes involving the pain-wracked, benighted couple. As Sylvia and Ted, Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig give rich, moving and sensitive performances, and Michael Gambon leaves his mark as a sympathetic neighbor who tries but does not succeed at saving Sylvia.

If there is a flaw in 'Sylvia,' it is one common to films that attempt to portray the lives of artists, particularly writers. Although a scenarist can dramatize the details of an artist's life, it is virtually impossible for him to capture the richness and power of the art itself in the different medium of film. We never get the sense of how Sylvia either overcomes the difficulties of her life to succeed in her writing or how she uses those difficulties to enhance her art. What we do get is a few shots of Sylvia sitting in front of a typewriter, a comment or two about a book that has been or is soon to be published, a few references to critical reviews, and a smattering of voice-over recitations of Plath's poetry. What we don't get and what it is virtually impossible for film to capture is the essence of the writing itself. For this, one needs to return to the source material, the works that have lived on after the woman herself all these years. If the movie inspires new people to explore Sylvia Plath's writing, it will not have been in vain


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