We are showing A Quiet Passion as the third of our collaborations with Poetrywiv so there will be a programme of events, including the film as well as poetry inspired by Emily Dickinson.
Cynthia Nixon delivers a triumphant performance as Emily Dickinson as she personifies the wit, intellectual independence and pathos of the poet whose genius only came to be recognized after her death. Acclaimed British director Terence Davies (House of Mirth, The Deep Blue Sea) exquisitely evokes Dickinson’s deep attachment to her close knit family along with the manners, mores and spiritual convictions of her time that she struggled with and transcended in her poetry.
The prolific writer may not have had the most cinematic existence — she spent most of her days holed up inside her childhood home — but that doesn’t lessen of the impact of this tribute to Dickinson’s genius, which is by turns funny, tragic and thrilling. The writer-director wisely uses the poet’s life to explore the stifling societal norms of the day: all the puritanical piety and rigid decorum that made Dickinson feel so painfully out of place. We follow her through the minor bursts of action that break up the monotony of her life. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the movie is how amusing it is. Emily’s quick-witted, independent best friend, Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey), provides much of the comic relief, with her barbed repartee and outrageous views.
The lightness early in the movie eventually gives way to something darker, though, especially as Emily’s confidantes begin to disappear. First Vryling gets married and moves away, and then Emily’s father dies. Her only solaces are her kindhearted sister (Jennifer Ehle) and writing — but even that can send her into despair, knowing she’ll never get the recognition she craves.
The drama is marked by a stilted formality, but it works, especially in the context of a story about how suffocating customs can be for a woman who plans to avoid marriage and stay with her immediate family, where she feels safe. Davies is a master of the slow build, lyrically evoking the dreaminess and gravity of his subject and her verse. It’s strange, although not necessarily surprising, that it took so long for a movie about Emily Dickinson to get made. It’s not easy to do justice to such a beloved, enigmatic artist, but A Quiet Passion was well worth the wait.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall