Masters

A Quiet Passion

Terence Davies

Cynthia Nixon stars as the legendary poet Emily Dickinson in this luminous biopic from director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea, Sunset Song).

Emily Dickinson is an ideal subject for a filmmaker as unremittingly erudite as Terence Davies. Now recognized as a genius who committed to paper some of the most important verse 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. As source material, her story is as poetic as her work itself.

On the heels of last year's gorgeously rendered literary adaptation Sunset Song, which made its world premiere at the Festival, A Quiet Passion finds Davies and his cinematographer similarly engaged in recreating the details and atmosphere of the past. Here it is mostly a world of interiors in which Dickinson's family plays a key role. Indeed, as Emily, portrayed here by Cynthia Nixon, led such a deeply introverted existence, it is her encounters with her mother, father, and sister that provide the hinge around which the film is structured. 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 into the film that is the central joy of A Quiet Passion.

You will see no more beautiful a film this year — beautiful in its sumptuous photography, but also in the respect and love that it brings to its subject. The internal lives of poets are hard to visualize, yet Davies, a magician when it comes to understanding the inner workings of the most sensitive of minds, has created an extraordinarily moving account of Emily Dickinson's particular genius.

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