Joanne Woodward’s second time around. SYBIL (1976)

I have been known to watch HEAVY dramas at a very young age and then come back to them a couple years later to rediscover new found glances, words, and camera movements that I had previously overlooked, or may have been too young to realize at the time. This past week the film, THE THREE FACES OF EVE (1957) was  playing on Turner Classic Movies highlighting Joanne Woodward’s Oscar winning performance, and what instantly popped into my head was the TV movie SYBIL (1976) which starred Woodward almost twenty years later in her career this time playing not the patient with dissociate personality disorder, but the doctor here to help!

I had remembered seeing this film on Youtube, back in the day when you could put up a whole movie and it would stay on there for years. It was blurry copy, leaving me the memory that I needed to see this again at a later point when I could afford the DVD. Six years later and here I am having just watched a beautiful copy of the film. Now, Sally Field’s performance is astounding on every level. It is. I mean she was able to transition from sixteen different people in a matter of an hour! Incredible! She was very touching. I thought the scenes especially of her sitting in her apartment in Manhattan with her cat looking out the window not knowing what would become of her life was very moving, and brought me to tears as I sat in my little apartment and watched.

At the time, she was was enormously well received winning a Best Actress Emmy Award for her role. After watching the film again thought I kept thinking about Joanne Woodward as the doctor, Cornelia Wilbur. Paul Newman once said in an interview with Dick Cavett that she had a secret between herself and the camera. He talked about how when he directed her in, RACHEL, RACHEL, ( A film you must see, and one I need to write about soon!) she sometimes looked like she wasn’t doing very much, but when he would see the dailies he would be amazed by the magic she would bring to the screen. That’s exactly the quality that she brings to SYBIL. A magical quality that only she possessed. There is this Woodward warmth I like to call it which is blended with a sincerity and sophistication that makes her a very unique actress in my eyes. The looks she gives, a touch of the hand that she gives her fellow actor in a scene and a quiet knowing in this role.


She brought to the role of the doctor a quest for not only trying to get to the bottom of Sybil’s illness, but at the bottom of her as a human being. Woodward brought a very sincere quality when she was speaking to Sally Field’s character that she wanted to know her and her thoughts not just her illness. She at one point in the script even says, ” I love you.” She says this with such a look in your eye, it will just break your heart. It was one of the most touching scenes in the film and I think there are very few actresses who could bring that kind of deep warmth to a part of a doctor who one would assume to be sterile in many aspects.


I have no doubt that Woodward playing a woman like Sybil almost twenty years earlier could not have hurt when she was deciding how to create her portrait of the doctor. I think she must have went into the role understanding at an actor/ human level what the character of Sybil was going through which enhanced her non judgment in her acting.  Judgement, uncertainty, and dishonesty shine through in acting and with Woodward there is never a trace of it.  When she chose the part of Dr. Wilbur it fit her like a glove. I am so glad that this very rare opportunity presented itself and Woodward was given the opportunity at this time in her life to revisit this subject matter on film. – miss.classic film

The two disk special edition DVD is currently out now for you to experience. 




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