Sylvia Plath, the poet who has been far more famous in her death than in her life, will once again have her semi auto-biographical novel The Bell Jar made onto the big screen. Except now Julia Stiles will play Esther Greenwood, the character based on Plath herself.
The novel became well known in the U.S. in the 1970s after news of Plath’s suicide and ‘troubled life’ escaped. At the age of 30 in 1963 she gassed herself in an oven, leaving behind two small children and a batch of great poetry.
Anyone who loves poetry will be familiar with Plath, and can at least respect her skill. The same cannot be said for her prose. The Bell Jar is Plath’s only novel and it tells the tale of when she was 20 and went to New York on a summer internship, and how dealing with the pressures of the 1950s, as well as her future, proved to be too much. It was only shortly after that trip when she attempted suicide by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills. Ever since, she’s made suicide ‘cool’.
The Bell Jar is not a great book, much less is it a good book, but young audiences (key word: young) keep returning to it because it was her only novel, and if it wasn’t for her reputation as a poet, the book would have been long forgotten.
This is not the first time they’ve put The Bell Jar onto the screen. In 1979, a very ‘cheesy’ 1970ish film starring Marilyn Hassett as Esther and Julie Harris as her mother will remind you of a lesser version of Sybil. So when something doesn’t work once, there is always Hollywood.
In 2003, the film Sylvia was released, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Plath and Daniel Craig as her sadistic husband Ted Hughes. (Albeit Craig is much nicer to look at than the real Hughes). The film tanked at the box office.
Tristine Skyler is said to be the screenwriter, but either way I don’t see how even the greatest of screenwriters could make a bad, melodramatic book into even a passable film.