I had heard that the 2003 film Sylvia, based on the life of Sylvia Plath was poor, but watching a borrowed DVD of it, I was pleasantly surprised.
Sylvia stars the well, if predictably, cast Gwyneth Paltrow as the American poet and Daniel Craig as her husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes. It begins with their meeting in Cambridge and ends with Plath's death in 1963, so it essentially follows the course of their relationship, Plath's struggle to write and with the break-up of their marriage, Plath's original but tortured out-pourings, breakdown and death.
Paltrow is a wonderful Sylvia. This a role that would be easy to over-play but she manages the charismatic, intelligent but unstable beauty wonderfully. She is both touching and a little bit scary.
The time scale covered follows the length of Ted and Sylvia's relationship but this is very much her film and Daniel Craig, though well cast physically, is left with rather a tatty little bit of a part involving few smiles, much flashing of his blue eyes, and laconically prowling around pretty women. The warning I guess is that it is not called Sylvia and Ted, just Sylvia, but this being the case I would have liked more of her earlier life and the extensive time she serves as an apprentice writer in the States before her scholarship to Cambridge, and the history of her mental state pre-Ted. Apart from glancing references to her relationship with her father and his death when she was eight, and a rather unreal scene early in their relationship when she tells Ted about her attempted suicide, dwelling at length on the physical details but with no mention of why or how she recovered, Plath's instability seems in the film to rest entirely with Ted's philandering. Ted's behaviour did not help but he was not responsible for a mental state over twenty years in the brewing. The screenplay over focuses on her domestic drudgery and not enough on her intellect; a glib and easy explanation of superficial unhappiness but lacking a real examination of her confessional style and its links with her death.
I might quibble over some lapses in content, but Paltrow's performance carries what substance there is, and the result is perfectly watchable. Immaculate sets and a real feeling of 1950s Britain provide a crisp backdrop to Paltrow's portrait painting; the overall effect is ultimately two dimensional but still an acceptable and attractive period vision. One suspects a few decades' distance will produce a sensational remake, as the twining of these two creative lives is a tale well worth the telling. Still, this version is an engaging watch if you are interested in either of the poets.