American poet Sylvia Plath is studying in England. After a scathing review on one of her published poems she goes to a party and meets British poet Edward Hughes. Thus begins a tempestuous love affair that ends up in marriage. They move to America when Hughes wins a poetry award, while Sylvia takes a teaching job. Then the demands of family life start pressing on Sylvia for she suffers from jealousy and writer’s block while he becomes a celebrated poet.
Fearing he can’t write as well in the limelight, they go back to live in England but soon he starts attracting female attention for his work while Sylvia takes care of the children. A heated affair with an acquaintance of the couple leads Hughes to leave Sylvia. By then it’s virtually impossible to coexist with Sylvia’s fits.
Sylvia and Hughes love each other madly. They understand each other at a very intimate level, but they cannot live together. When Sylvia offers Hughes to come back home and he refuses, she takes her own life.
Sylvia is by far the best performance I’ve seen from Gwyneth Paltrow. She was brilliant in Proof, and very good in A Perfect Murder, but Sylvia plainly takes the cake for her acting abilities. In Sylvia, Gwyneth displays raw vulnerability, the haunting quality of those who walk a fine line between genius and madness. She excels in that role. Her on-screen chemistry with Daniel Craig is undeniable, so it’s like watching a Greek tragedy unfold before your very eyes. I intuited what was going to happen in the end, but watching it develop you feel that a woman like her, drowning in those powerful emotions, wasn’t going to have a happy ending.
By the time I saw Gwyneth in A Perfect Murder opposite Michael Douglas and Viggo Mortensen, I knew she was capable of very good acting and she was an actress to watch. Unfortunately, she has chosen a more commercial path—which I don’t criticize per se because it has made her immensely popular—with the Iron Man franchise. She brings balance and etiquette to Iron Man, but she should do serious work more often, work on the level of Sylvia and Proof.
Daniel Craig was the icing on Sylvia’s cake. He conveys strength in both his acting and his remarkable physical fitness so he was excellent as co-protagonist. Daniel Craig is also an example of a fine actor with a more commercial appeal, which I think it’s not necessarily bad, but it’s difficult to make a crossover to more serious work once the public is used to see you in certain roles.