Like Titanic, we know from the start where this is going, and all credit to the filmmakers that they keep us gripped, drawing out emotional resonance and letting Paltrow and Craig create fascinating characters along the way. After a series of fairly breezy films, Plath is a seriously meaty role for Paltrow to sink her chops into, and she's remarkably complex as a woman fighting so many inner demons that she loses sight of the world around her. So it's a pity that the script distils Plath down to one basic driving emotion: jealousy for both her husband's greater success (she's dismissed I Britain as substandard because she's American and female) and his perceived infidelity. Since the script includes references to her extremely troubled childhood, there's surely more to her than this, but the filmmakers don't seem to trust the audience with the more uncomfortable, ambiguous truth.
That said, Leffs directs the film inventively, somehow capturing the joy and happiness while maintaining the much darker shadows that threaten to overwhelm the characters at any moment. This razor's edge is present through the whole film, even in the poetic wordplay of the couple's friends. Although there aren't many friends; the film is insular and very tightly focussed on Sylvia and Ted. Even their children are barely here. And sometimes this tight focus gets a bit silly, including one ludicrous movie-sex scene near the end. Even so, there's a raw beauty here. Like Plath's poems, which don't have nearly enough screen time, the film is, to quote a character, "beautiful, frightening, haunting."
dir Christine Jeffs|
scr John Brownlow
with Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, Blythe Danner, Michael Gambon, Amira Casar, Andrew Havill, Lucy Davenport, Liddy Holloway, David Birkin, Alison Bruce, Julian Firth
release US 17.Oct.03; UK 30.Jan.04
True love with a twist: Craig and Paltrow
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