July 26, 2016

Third time’s a charm for The Bell Jar film?


Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

More than fifty years after its original publication, Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar is headed to the big screen (again).

The first effort did not go well. The 1979 adaptation was skewered by Janet Maslin in the New York Times (“This is as sane, cheery and level-headed an account of a nervous breakdown as you could ever hope to see . . . Esther is, even at her most hysterical, more like a cheer-leader whose team has just lost the big game. This is disastrous…”) and inspired a libel lawsuit in which a Boston psychiatrist contested her portrayal in the film, including “homosexual advances” not described in the novel. Among the defendants in that case was Ted Hughes, Plath’s widower and the notoriously difficult trustee of her estate, who had sold the film rights. (For excellent commentary on Sylvia Plath, and her relationship with her husband and her work, see Sady Doyle’s book Trainwreck, out in September from Melville House.)

More recently, the actress Julia Stiles made moves to adapt The Bell Jar, but never got the funding she needed. In 2012 she told Jen Carlson at Gothamist that after commissioning a script and lining up a cast and a director, she’d let the rights expire: “It’s just a hard book to get people behind . . . To me it’s a no-brainer, but I think people who have to give money for movies, they didn’t see that it would find an audience, or they thought it was too dark.”

Now Priority Pictures has taken the project on, Deadline reports, and the new adaptation is set to star Dakota Fanning as Esther Greenwood and will mark actress Kirsten Dunst’s feature film directorial debut. Filming is set to begin in early 2017.



Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.