Sylvia (2003 film)

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Sylvia movie.jpg
Directed byChristine Jeffs
Written byJohn Brownlow
Produced byAlison Owen
Mary Richards
StarringGwyneth Paltrow
Daniel Craig
Jared Harris
Michael Gambon
Blythe Danner
Edited byTariq Anwar
Music byGabriel Yared
Distributed byIcon Film Distribution (United Kingdom)[2]
Focus Features (United States)
Release dates
  • 17 October 2003 (2003-10-17) (United States)
  • 30 January 2004 (2004-01-30) (United Kingdom)
Running time
110 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States

Sylvia is a 2003 British biographical drama film directed by Christine Jeffs and starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, and Michael Gambon. It tells a story based on the real-life romance between prominent poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. The film begins with their meeting at Cambridge in 1956 and ends with Sylvia Plath's suicide in 1963.

Frieda Hughes, Sylvia and Ted's daughter, accused the filmmakers of profiting from her mother's death.[3]


Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932, Plath developed a precocious talent as a writer, publishing her first poem when she was only eight years old. That same year, tragedy introduced itself into her life as Plath was forced to confront the unexpected death of her father. In 1950, she began studying at Smith College on a literary scholarship, and while she was an outstanding student, she also began suffering from bouts of extreme depression. Following her junior year, she attempted suicide for the first time. Plath survived, and, in 1955, she was granted a Fulbright Scholarship to study in England at the University of Cambridge.

The film begins with a shot of Plath sleeping, then opening her eyes. As a student at Cambridge she rides along on her red bicycle and wearing an academic gown. She hears of a party to celebrate the publishing of a magazine called St. Botolph's, where she meets the young poet Ted Hughes. The two fall in love and marry in 1956, then go off to Massachusetts where her mother lives (Aurelia Plath, played by Paltrow's mother Blythe Danner). While they both are teaching at Smith College. Sylvia quickly learns that others are also enthralled with her husband, for a combination of his good looks, charisma, fame and success. They return to England, first to London and then to Devon, where Sylvia raises their two children and lives in her husband's professional shadow as she tries to eke out her own writing career, which doesn't come as naturally to her as it does to Ted. After a visit by David and Assia Wevill, who had rented their London flat, Sylvia rightly accuses Ted of infidelity. She kicks him out and then begins to write the poems that would be published posthumously in her collection titled Ariel. Sylvia then moves back to London with her children. Ted visits at Christmas and they make love again but he says he cannot leave Assia, who is pregnant. Shortly thereafter she prepares for her suicide, sealing off the children's room from the gas from her gas oven. A nurse comes to take out the children and Ted sees Plath's manuscript on her desk. A closing title informs us that her book made her much beloved and that Ted wrote his response in 1998 (just before his death), in a collection titled Birthday Letters.



Filming took place between October 2002 and February 2003. Much of the film was shot in and around the New Zealand city of Dunedin, with the University of Otago serving to represent Cambridge.


Sylvia received mixed reviews from critics. Metacritic rates it at 56%. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 37% "rotten" approval rating from mainstream critics, giving the consensus, "This biopic about Sylvia Plath doesn't rise above the level of highbrow melodrama."[4] Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of a possible 4 stars, praising Paltrow and Craig's performances.[5] A.O. Scott, writing for The New York Times, also praised Paltrow's portrayal of Plath but wrote that, "The psychological dynamics of the marriage, unsettled by professional envy and sexual jealousy, are duly noted, but the film's emotions are too big, too untidy and too strange to be contained by its story."[6]


  1. ^ a b "Sylvia (2003)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  2. ^ "Sylvia (2003)". BBFC. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  3. ^ Wilson, Jamie (3 February 2003). "Frieda Hughes attacks BBC for film on Plath". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 September 2007.
  4. ^ "Sylvia (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (24 October 2003). "Sylvia Movie Review & Summary". Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  6. ^ Scott, A.O. (17 October 2003). "FILM REVIEW; A Poet's Death, A Death's Poetry". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 4 June 2016.

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