Sylvia

The popular literary biopic is mainly a hopeless subgenre, but this account of Sylvia Plath and her husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes manages to test the rule thanks to its unusual seriousness and first-rate performances by Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig. Director Christine Jeffs and writer John Brownlow scrupulously avoid taking sides in the volatile marriage—a delicate task given the four decades of verbal and legal warfare between the couple's partisans, not to mention the aura of myth that surrounds Plath's suicide at 30, which brought her a level of recognition she never achieved in life. Though constrained from quoting Plath's work at length, the film manages to convey that the sexiness of poetry itself was the honey that drew the couple together and made them, at least initially, inseparable. (This is rated R, though I suspect the same film from a major studio would have won a PG-13.) Paltrow's mother, Blythe Danner, plays Plath's mother with such insight that I was sorry the role wasn't made bigger, proportionate to the importance she had in Plath's life. Jared Harris and Amira Casar fare much better in their respective roles as poet Al Alvarez and Hughes's lover, Assia Wevill. 100 min.

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