Mixed or average reviews - based on 40 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 16 out of 40
  2. Negative: 3 out of 40

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Critic Reviews

  1. This is the richest role Paltrow has had since ''Shakespeare in Love,'' and she rises to the challenge. She digs deep into Plath's mercurial nature, giving us a Sylvia who's fiercely independent and alive yet burdened with demons of insecurity that bubble up in a rage.
  2. Christine Jeffs has directed it with discretion and intimacy, almost a paradoxical privacy.
  3. 80
    The excellent cast is headed by Gwyneth Paltrow in the mood-shifting title role and Daniel Craig as the helpless, not-so-happily philandering Hughes.
  4. Reviewed by: June Howdel
    Though the sketchy narrative could do with a bit of filling out, and the settings could be less gloomy, this is a memorable interpretation that benefits enormously from sound casting decisions.
  5. Christine Jeffs's film is an emotionally rich biography of the poet Sylvia Plath, who is played with radiant conviction by Gwyneth Paltrow.
  6. As a film it's mostly top-notch work. Kiwi director Christine Jeffs has taken the poignant, thoughtful screenplay of erstwhile documentarian John Brownlow and rendered it a moving mood-piece of subtlety and ever-encroaching sorrow.
  7. 75
    For those who have read the poets and are curious about their lives, Sylvia provides illustrations for the biographies we carry in our minds.
  8. Sylvia the movie competently shows us how; but, as always, it's Sylvia the writer who brilliantly tells us why -- then, now and tomorrow, her foreboding words are her finest legacy.
  9. 75
    At heart, Sylvia is constructed as a psychological suspense film framed around the ambiguities of Hughes's infidelity and Plath's resulting paranoia. So at its strangest, the movie is a potboiler.
  10. Paltrow's performance in Sylvia doesn't have Oscar- worthy depth, but it's a solid, sincere portrayal that captures enough sides of Plath's complex personality to enrich the movie, directed with impressive visual power by New Zealand filmmaker Christine Jeffs.
  11. What Jeffs -- and Paltrow -- do capture is the shroud of tragedy that hovered over Plath.
  12. Despite an exceptional performance by Paltrow, whose Plath is a layer cake of infinite intelligence and bottomless need, Jeffs' film is an icy affair lacking the fever of Plath's and Hughes' poems.
  13. You can also see Sylvia without realizing she could be witty and bemused, qualities apparent in her posthumously published novel, "The Bell Jar." This book, which spoke to sensitive girls of the 1960s like few others, is mentioned once in passing in the film. We never see her writing it or learn what it means to her.
  14. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Doesn't shed much light on the fragile and enigmatic writer whose myth has nearly obscured the real woman.
  15. Paltrow does this role exceptionally well, but it is underwritten.
  16. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    Frustratingly anemic, the filmmakers hiding behind their good taste and sensitivity. They might as well have gone for broke, since Plath and Hughes' daughter accused them of monstrous exploitation anyway.
  17. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Still, there is an estimable integrity to the respect and fidelity with which the film regards its subjects, as well as an honesty in its attempt to illuminate the essences of these difficult people.
  18. The New Yorker
    Reviewed by: Anthony Lane
    Having dreaded the prospect of Sylvia, I admired it precisely because it refuses to play along with the mythologizing that has sprung up, and vulgarized, the lives of two poets. [20 October 2003, p. 206]
  19. 60
    A handsome, mostly tasteful production on par with 2001's Bayley-Murdoch impersonation "Iris."
  20. Aside from Paltrow's performance, Sylvia is neither a film so spectacular it shouldn't be missed nor something so tepid you have to stay away.
  21. 60
    A not-very-good movie about a fascinating and underexplored subject: the unknowability of a marriage.
  22. 60
    While there's plenty of Shakespeare, Lawrence and Yeats scattered throughout John Brownlow's screenplay, there's precious little Plath -- no doubt the unfortunate result of the stranglehold the Hughes estate still maintains over her work.
  23. 50
    It's a dreary movie about a dreary character, offering little insight into her poetry or the mental illness that ultimately conquered her.
  24. Broadly speaking, the popular literary biopic is a hopeless subgenre, but this account of the relationship between Sylvia Plath and husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes manages to test the rule thanks to its unusual seriousness and first-rate performances.
  25. It's a coy, cautious film about a frank, fearless writer.
  26. 50
    Compare Sylvia to another, more powerful film about a tragic literary death: "Iris," about Iris Murdoch's descent into Alzheimer's, leaves you with an aching heart and reddened eyes. After the equally sorrowful Sylvia, we are entertained but unmoved.
  27. 50
    In spite of Frieda Hughes' objections, a few snippets of Plath's poetry slip into Sylvia, but they don't do the movie any favors--they just add more weight to a story that already buckles at the knees.
  28. Wall Street Journal
    Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    The movie doesn't shed much light on their famously contentious marriage. Instead, it spreads gloom all around.
  29. 50
    This frigid and inaccessible period piece wears its glumness like a shroud.
  30. 50
    Paltrow looks glam even in death, which only supports the notion, raised by Plath’s daughter Frieda Hughes, that the movie would be about a "Sylvia Suicide Doll." Good call.
  31. The problem with Christine Jeffs’s Sylvia, as with most movies about deeply troubled artists, is that for the most part we are seeing the troubles and not the artist.
  32. 42
    The film, bleeding its central character of all shades but black and darkest gray, fails as both biographical chronicle and filmed narrative.
  33. Sylvia also makes it seem as though, even at her happiest, she never received much pleasure from life. This makes for a long, slow procession to the oven door -– so dark, somber, and lifeless is this well-intentioned biography.
  34. This feature glimpse into the Bell Jar is an exercise in drudgery, with nothing particularly insightful or revealing to say about the charter member of the Suicidal Poets Society and the artistic endeavor in which she would make her indelible mark.
  35. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    The film's claustrophobic, color-coordinated dourness yields little illumination, and as the surging violins accompany our heroine's un-raveling mind, the movie comes queasily close to romanticizing suicide. I knew I was supposed to feel something, but what?
  36. Reviewed by: Phil Hall
    A mediocre film that presents the troubled poet Sylvia Plath as a jealous, possessive and irritating woman. It is hard to recall another biopic which is so unflattering to its subject.
  37. 38
    Never persuasively dramatize the agony, ecstasy and intricacy of composing poetry. Without that aesthetic component, all you see is that Plath's hunger for life couldn't compete with her death wish.
  38. Seems to avoid any kind of edgy, precedent-making attitude, some point of view that feels charged, divisive and consequently alive.
  39. 30
    Sylvia plays it safe, and in doing so it becomes little more than just another domestic melodrama devoid of life and, of all things, poetry.

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