According to an interview with The New York Times, Julia Stiles is to produce and star in an adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar.
Stiles and her co-producer Celine Rattray from Mandalay Vision chose Nico...展开le Kassel (helmer of The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon; and the upcoming Earthbound, in which Whoopi Goldberg stars as God) to direct. The screenplay is being written by Tristine Skyler, a playwright who has researched Plath for the project by delving into archives with the help of prominent Plath scholars. That suggests that the film’s angle will be to model protagonist Esther Greenwood on Plath herself; in one sense, that’s a meaningful strategy since the novel is widely regarded as a thinly-veiled autobiography but it does not seem to display much faith in the novel’s worth as fiction, divorced from the turbulent existence of its author.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s only novel, is a coming-of-age story that closely mirrors a number of events in the writer’s early life. Set in the 1950s, it follows its protagonist Esther Greenwood as she takes her first steps in the adult world. She gets an apparently enviable internship on a glossy magazine in New York but finds the experience alienating, and the limited options for her future frightening. Sliding into a depression, she begins a series of ever-more serious suicide attempts as she struggles to see a future for herself in the confining atmosphere of her time and place.
Stiles told the NYT: “One side of the book is fascinating to me because of the specific time period, the 1950s, but there’s also something that’s very timeless about it. What makes Sylvia Plath such a good writer is her ability to write imagery. If you could see this girl’s vivid imagination, it would help the audience understand the intense feelings that she has. It’s a different kind of depression that she suffers from. Instead of being numb to the world, seeing the world in black and white, she sees it almost in hypercolor, and to me that seemed perfect for a film.”
Stiles will take the role of Esther and Virginia Madsen has signed up for the role of kindly therapist Dr Nolan.
This will be the second filmic adaptation of Plath’s novel. Marilyn Hassett played the role of Esther Greenwood in the 1979 adaptation of the film, which was scripted by Marjorie Kellogg and directed by Larry Peerce. However, in recent years, Plath’s life has proven much more interesting than her work to cultural commentators (in fact, semi speculative books on Plath’s relationship with Hughes are almost a cottage industry), and in 2003, Gwyneth Paltrow starred as Plath in the quasi-autobiographical Sylvia opposite Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes.
The film, which was directed by Sunshine Cleaning helmer Christine Jeffs eschewed chronicling her early life, or in fact much of her life outside of the unhappiest periods in her marriage. It instead displayed a prurient interest in Hughes’ affairs, Plath’s apparent jealousy of his success and her subsequent suicide. Hilariously, when the Hughes estate refused permission to include his poems in the film, Craig’s Hughes was compelled instead to thunderously declaim poetry by Yates. Undoubtedly there have been sillier films made about writers but it’s bloody hard to think of one right now. Hopefully, this new adaptation of The Bell Jar will focus, as Stiles suggests, on the imagery and observations of the novel, rather than trying to revive the tragic suicide of popular lore.