hadn’t been for my semester-long study of modern poetry back in college, I most likely
wouldn’t have known anything about Sylvia Plath or her husband, Ted Hughes. And unless
you’re a poetry buff, you probably haven’t heard of them either. So for those of you who
didn’t hear the story in Professor Timmerman’s poetry class like I did, I’ll retell it
Sylvia Plath (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) was, perhaps, doomed
from the start. After her father’s death when she was still very young, Sylvia attempted
suicide several times. But while she was definitely a troubled child, she was also
gifted. It was while she was studying at Cambridge University in London on a Fulbright
scholarship that she met Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig), who was also an aspiring poet.
Sylvia and Ted married, and his career flourished. His first book won
awards and gained him worldwide recognition (not to mention the adoration of women
everywhere—and he wasn’t one to discourage their attention). Meanwhile, Sylvia struggled
with writer’s block and worked as a teacher to support the couple. After their first
child was born, Sylvia’s first book was published—to mediocre reviews—and it became
harder and harder to compete with her successful husband while, at the same time, trying
to compete for his affection.
The end of their story is also a famous
one in literary circles and college poetry classes—but since it’s also the end of the
movie, I’ll just keep that to myself. I will, however, point out that Sylvia did
eventually become a famous poet and a famous feminist voice—but not until after her
As a twenty-year-old college student, trying to find independence
and individuality as an adult—and as a woman—Sylvia’s story was a powerful one for me.
It warned me of the dangers of falling in love with the wrong man—of giving up your
heart, your soul, your life, and your dreams for someone who gives nothing in return.
Today, Sylvia’s story holds a different meaning for me—but it’s still as powerful and
tragic as it was when Professor Timmerman told it years ago.
based on Sylvia’s story is equally powerful—though definitely not in an action-packed,
high-energy way. I was excited to see the movie—since I knew the story—but it even bored
me every once in a while when the story seemed to drag on. The filmmakers don’t throw in
humor or edge-of-your-seat excitement to spice things up—and the story is often
depressing and mentally exhausting—which is why Sylvia isn’t a mainstream film.
But Gwyneth Paltrow does an excellent job of portraying Plath—of depicting her strengths
and weaknesses and battles. And Craig is perfectly detestable as Hughes.
If you’ve studied Sylvia Plath and her poetry as I have, Sylvia is
a must-see—but those of you who aren’t familiar with the story (or the poetry) may not be
as excited about it as I was. Still, it’s worth watching—and I highly recommend it.
Just don’t expect action and adventure.