Emily Dickinson is an ideal subject for a filmmaker as unremittingly erudite as Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea, Of Time and the City). Now recognized as a genius who committed to paper some of the most important verses in American literature, the 19th-century poet was virtually unknown in her lifetime, with fewer than a dozen of her nearly 1,800 poems published. A recluse who eventually boarded herself up in her bedroom, Dickinson explored her inner self in great detail. And while the internal lives of poets are hard to visualize, her story is as poetic as her work itself.
A Quiet Passion finds Davies and cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister engaged in recreating the details and atmosphere of the past. Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) led such a deeply introverted existence and yet it is her encounters with her mother, father, and sister that structure the film. These moments—familiar to all who know the role that families play in Davies’ work—are sensitively rendered, but it is the seamless manner in which Dickinson’s luminous poetry is integrated that is the central joy of A Quiet Passion.
Stunning in its sumptuous photography, the film’s beauty is also evident in the respect and love that it brings to its subject. A magician when it comes to understanding the inner workings of the most sensitive of minds, Davies has created an extraordinarily moving account of Emily Dickinson’s particular genius.
“Given its themes and the tragic circumstances of Dickinson’s life, Passion is a refreshingly humorous work. Its firecracker dialogue is invigorating; the assured, measured compositions are equally compelling. And in its sensitivity to intersecting conflicts related to womanhood and class, it is quietly masterful.” (Michael Pattison, Indiewire)
“The great theme of Dickinson’s life, Davies argues, is finding solace—not in religion, but in art, and A Quiet Passion itself can boast such moments of quiet catharsis.” (Ray O’Connor, The Film Stage)