Film Reviews

A Quiet Passion (2016)

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Starring: Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Duncan Duff

Director: Terence Davies

Emily Dickinson was such a fascinating figure. A woman poet from the mid-1800’s, she was published in her own life, but gained more renowned after death. She’s one of America’s greatest poets, but also known for her eccentricities.

This film is the story of her life. From her education as a child, her life with her family and her relationships with her sister in law, with religion, and later with her publishers. She became more and more eccentric as her life progressed, and it’s wonderful to see that unfold here, as her feelings about the losses of life around her and her inability to cope with the life circumstances proscribed for her lead to her becoming more and more reclusive til she merely speaks to guests through a closed door, and chooses to only wear white.

The film is interesting, capturing the life of women of the era, the pressures on them, as well as the changes in society that were occurring at the time. Cynthia Nixon is highly sympathetic as Emily, and her voice narrates her poems over the top of the film as events unfold. Pride and Prejudice fans will be happy to see Jennifer Ehle as Vinnie Dickinson, Emily’s younger sister and companion.

At times the film feels declamatory, the old fashioned way of speaking falling awkwardly from the actors lips, and therefore lacking conviction. It also feels a bit melodramatic at times, with women brazenly flouting notions of religion and gender equality in ways that I have never read about in contemporary literature, but which perhaps Dickinson did feel passionate about. All in all, it’s a nice historical drama and a fascinating look at a mysterious woman and poet.

See It If: you love costume dramas and Dickinson’s poetry. It’s a slightly awkward film, and won’t please or interest everyone, but surely has found it’s intended audience.

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