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Film Reviews Wild Nights with Emily will have you racing to the Dickinson canon

Molly Shannon as Emily Dickinson, left, and Susan Ziegler plays Dickinson's love interest Susan in Wild Nights with Emily.

Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment / Films We Like

  • Wild Nights with Emily
  • Written and directed by: Madeleine Olnek
  • Starring: Molly Shannon and Susan Ziegler
  • Classification: PG; 84 minutes
  • Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Don’t be alarmed by the first 10 minutes of this film. Stick with it, because the wobbly tone and some amateurish acting warm up into something lovely and memorable: the too-little-known true story of Emily Dickinson’s (Molly Shannon) lifelong love affair with Susan (Susan Ziegler), her brother’s wife, and how it was sanitized by editors after her death. (Susan’s name was literally erased from many of Dickinson’s nearly 2,000 poems.)

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Molly Shannon, who has a great face and a criminally underused talent, gives her characterization of Emily Dickinson all she’s got.

Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment / Films We Like

Writer-director Madeleine Olnek has a merry time making fun of our stubborn belief in Dickinson as a virginal recluse, when contrasted with the obvious Sapphic lustiness of her work (“I taste a liquor never brewed –/From Tankards scooped in Pearl –/Not all the Frankfort Berries/Yield such an Alcohol!”). But gradually, through dialogue lifted from real letters in the Dickinson archives at Amherst College and poems beyond her greatest hits, the movie gets under your skin – and quite often, stabs your heart. Shannon, who has a great face and a criminally underused talent, gives it all she’s got. You’ll be googling the Dickinson canon and rethinking all your literature courses the minute it ends.

Wild Nights with Emily opens June 7 in Toronto and Vancouver.

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