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:: Sylvia

Sylvia Path, the poet, is arguably more famous for being the mother who sealed the windows and doors in her kitchen, turned on the gas oven and placed her head inside, allowing the fumes to slowly overcome her and take her life. ‘Sylvia’ stars Gwyneth Paltrow as American poet Sylvia Plath and tells the story of her love affair and eventual marriage to British poet Ted Hughes played by Daniel Craig (Road to Perdition). More importantly for Plath fans, the film gives an insight into how her roles as student, teacher, wife and mother influenced her fragile emotional state and how this in turn, resulted in the outpouring of pain and angst in her poetry.

The film charts the course of Sylvia’s life as a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge University in the late 1950s. It is here that she meets fellow student Ted Hughes and after an intense courtship, they marry. From the very beginning of their relationship, Hughes and Plath seem to be on a one-way trip to matrimonial doom. The ruggedly handsome and charming Hughes (played by the ruggedly handsome and charming Craig) attracts constant female attention and Sylvia spends many hours agonising over the feelings of insecurity this brings. Whilst visiting Sylvia’s mother (played by Paltrow’s real-life mother, Blythe Danner) in America, Aurelia Plath tells Ted of Sylvia’s childhood suicide attempt. Realising his wife’s long-standing battle with depression, Hughes encourages Plath to write but she persists in procrastinating, allowing domesticity to rule her life. She is continually cooking and baking whilst Ted writes, continuing to have his work published.

A chance meeting with poet David Wevill and his wife Assia sees Ted and Sylvia’s marriage descend into a maelstrom of infidelity, resentment and misery. Ted and Assia begin an affair that ultimately destroys Ted’s marriage to Sylvia. (The subject of Ted and Assia’s marriage and subsequent parenthood are not dealt with in the film; Assia committed suicide six years later, taking her daughter with her, in a replay of Sylvia’s suicide). With her marriage to Ted well and truly over, Sylvia’s creativity and inspiration return. She pours out her pain and torment onto the page, tortured and inspired by what she writes.

This is by far the best acting performance by Paltrow aided by her striking physical resemblance to Plath. Paltrow does an outstanding job of bringing the tortured poet’s simultaneous pain and ecstasy to the surface especially in the last half of the film. She captures Plath’s obsession with being a good mother (Plath famously made sandwiches for her children before the oven incident, ensuring that although they would lose their mother, they would not go hungry) and her pained emotional state that inspired the fascinating and poignant poems that upon re-reading, gain more impact and power after seeing this film.