Sally Field in Sybil (1976)

Faulty Sybil

I was asked once why I prefer to watch old movies and TV movies which most people have never heard of and I replied because of "Sybil". "Sybil" was a movie I hadn't planned to watch and I had never even heard of it at the time which was quite a few years ago but with in minutes of it starting I was blown away by the powerful acting and intrigued by the story. That experience of discovering this made for TV movie from the 1970s made me realise that there was a wealth of ignored and forgotten movies out there, some of which are up there with the best big screen movies.

As to "Sybil" itself well originally made as a two part drama and then edited into one movie, one long movie which comes in at over 3 hours it is based on the true story of Shirley Ardell Mason. Now I don't know how true the movie is to Mason's story but what we watch is the story of the shy Sybil who has episodes where she does stuff she has no idea of. After one episode where she hurts herself smashing a window she ends up in the office of psychiatrist Dr. Cornelia Wilbur who quickly becomes aware that Sybil is a woman of multiple personalities, thirteen in total which Sybil's subconscious has created to help her deal with the world. As Cornelia patiently helps Sybil, being there for her at times like a mother she comes to understand that these personalities come from a childhood of physical and mental abuse from her own mother. But Cornelia discovers that each of these personalities have different facets and some not as nice as others as she encounters the suicidal Marsha.

Joanne Woodward in Sybil (1976)

I really want to say get yourself buy a copy of "Sybil" and watch for yourself because if you appreciate good movies which have depth this will blow you away and if you think all TV movies are rubbish you will be eating your words. Having said that I don't want to go into two much detail about what happens in "Sybil" as this is a movie which needs to be experienced but this is very much an eye opening story which delves into abuse and the subject of multiple personality disorder but also the story of patience and persistence as Cornelia never gives up on Sybil. It is testament to the skill of Joanne Woodward that Dr. Cornelia Wilbur comes across as real but also extremely caring.

But the thing which blows you away about "Sybil" other than the horrifying aspects of abuse and the multiple personalities of Sybil is the performance from Sally Field. Field is spell binding as Sybil delivering a performance which switches between the various personalities in such away that you begin to wonder how much this role must have affected her. At times the switch between personalities going from the shy Sybil to the confident Victoria and then the childish Peggy is astonishing and to be honest scary. But it is not just the shock of the switching personalities as she gets each one perfect such as a scene where she is watching her close friend Richard busking and she has that innocence and bounce of a little girl who has a crush and is proud of her boyfriend. And there are so many more of these moments which you can't take your eyes off of it for a split second.

What this all boils down to is that "Sybil" is a seriously powerful movie with a disturbing storyline and powerful performances from Joanne Woodward and especially from Sally Field.