A Quiet Passion: Emily Dickinson Revealed

DATELINE: Dickinson in Amherst

Nixon with Jennifer Ehle

So seldom do we find a movie made out of the epheremal that we want to celebrate. A life of Emily Dickinson is bound to be considered still-born by many modern types.

Cynthia Nixon stars as Miss Dickinson, a reclusive poet whose internal life was as intense as it was empty.

A strong individual, she eschewed church and social niceities for the grandness of her poetry, which was disparaged and ignored during her lifetime.

In an age of movies for noisy and thoughtless audiences, this film will test the true mettle of those with interior lives. It is magnificent in wit, genteel details, and brilliantly directed by Terence Davies who also wrote the script.

This contributes to a singular vision.

Just the bravura scene where they age before a photographer, morphing Emily from Emma Bell to Cynthia Nixon is stunning.

This is a film of nuance, and the actors have the opportunity to show how the lives of the Dickinson family and friends were inspiration enough to make Emily a great poet, unknown to those who lived with her. She considered her life “minor.”

Standouts among the cast certainly must acknowledge Keith Carradine as Emily’s stern, but supportive father—though their differences and debates on God and church are touched by wit and deeper insight.

One might compare this film to the classic great films of Ivory-Merchant so many decades ago. And, those were made for a miniscule audience of literate film lovers. How few of us are left today?

Let’s just feel some joy that a magnificent movie has been given to us: it’s a great gift to enjoy privately. It provides a chance to avoid computerized cartoons based on that weird genre of the “graphic novel” that dominates movie production in the 21st century.

A warning to sunshine poetry lovers, Emily led a most unhappy life–and the film does not flinch from that fact.

 

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