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Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson and Jennifer Ehle as her sister Vinnie Dickinson in 'A Quiet Passion,' from director Terence Davies.

Johan Voets

3 out of 4 stars

Title
A Quiet Passion
Written by
Terence Davies
Directed by
Terence Davies
Starring
Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle and Keith Carradine
Genre
Drama
Classification
PG
Country
UK/Belgium
Language
English
Year
2016

In A Quiet Passion, director Terence Davies considers the life of reclusive 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, whose disembodied verse now adorns decorative cushions and coffee mugs. As plucky aphorisms about life and nature, they bear little resemblance to the original and even less to their prickly creator. Davies gathers the fragments and restores her to flesh, which is something altogether less pat. In a series of portrait episodes, Davies treads Dickinson's biographical terrain without presuming to editorialize; instead, Dickinson's poetry speaks for itself in voiceover. At first, the tone is playful – paced with tersely energetic scenes of the free-thinking teenager (Emma Bell), then the combative, prideful woman and caustic conversationalist (Cynthia Nixon). Sharp drawing-room repartee interrogates the same decorum and morality as her poems, although the frequently epigrammatic dialogue is mannered, even for a period film. With the exception of a powerful reverie of Dickinson's rare unsuppressed longing, the second half takes apart the romanticized notion of solitude as she sequesters herself, uncompromising but alone. Try putting that on a mug.

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