The now famed American poetess, Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge, England in 1956. Angered over a stinging review of her work by the literary roué Ted Hughes (Dennis Craig), she is then charmed by his poetry and blatantly sets out to seduce him. They marry soon after.

Sylvia had tried to commit suicide several times in her youth. Recalling one terrifying near miss, her cold-seeming mother resents Hughes, sensing the power in passionate love to harm her fragile, brilliant daughter. The initially torrid life that Ted and Sylvia share in both America and in rural Britain, grows tired through the strain of two children, her lack of joy in teaching, and his greater poetic success, all of which seem to stifle her creativity.

It ends because of his chronic infidelities, reduced in this version to a committed affair with a mutual friend, the thrice-married, Assia Wevill (Amira Casar), who becomes pregnant. Rage, jealousy, and depression become Sylvia’s muse. The more she suffers with Hughes, the more productive and poignant is her work. Unable to lure him back, she leaves buttered bread and milk for her children, seals the kitchen, and gasses herself to death.


Based on the true life and truer legend of Syliva Plath (1932-1963) and her husband Ted Hughes (1930-1998) whose death seems to have made this "telling" possible. Much criticized for his actions, Hughes had always seemed to direct and shape Plath’s legacy by editing her poems, limiting access to her work, and destroying parts of their papers.

Some claim that Sylvia’s suicide is inexplicable. This film engages with that problem. Her morbid fascination with taking her life is ever present, so that the end of the story is implicit in its beginning. Sylvia’s being drawn to self-killing suggests that her death may have been "inevitable"--i.e., not Hughes’s fault.

Yet also in this version, those exquisitely painful emotions of jealousy, loss, and depression seem appropriate, if strongly defined, reactions to a bad situation for which he was at least partly responsible. The film does not indicate that in 1969, the mistress Wevill would then murder her daughter by Hughes as she too committed suicide. In 1970, Hughes married again. His desire to control the spin of these tragic deaths is understandable, if not forgivable.

More poetry would have been welcome, but for students the film would be a complement and stimulus to reading.

Primary Source

Alliance Atlantis