A review of “Sylvia” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, nudity, adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

 

 

One of the most tragic and influential figures in literature is brought to vivid life courtesy of a mercurial performance by screen chameleon Gwyneth Paltrow.

Sylvia Plath – poet, dreamer, genius, manic-depressive.  On a wing and prayer, not to mention a Fulbright scholarship and a fetching red bicycle, American university student Plath wins the heart of English poet Ted Hughes, whom she proceeds to woo and wed.  Sylvia and Ted boldly look their bright futures square in the eye, determined to succeed as literary luminaries.

Moods and mental illness intervene.  While Hughes racks up lettered awards and a coterie of pretty young fans, Plath suffers a severe case of writer’s block and terminal jealousy (“Oh Black Marauder, one day I’ll have my death of him”).  Her depression results in haunting prose, weighty with sorrow and suffering.

An anxious foreboding lends “Sylvia” maximum melodrama.  As depression plagues her psyche, Paltrow’s Plath segues from self-possessed schoolgirl to depressive shrew in the course of two short hours.  Craig plays off Paltrow with masculine bewilderment and hunky virility, nailing the not-so-remorseful philandering husband with brawny assurance.

Fifties production design and costumes are pleasing to the eye, and well in keeping with the old-fashioned notion of illness left unchecked. 

Doom and gloom notwithstanding, the volatile couple attach a handsome chemistry to their burgeoning despair.  Their psychological wounds are anything but dreary, and the heartbreak of their splintering existence is deliciously palpable.