THE STORY – Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) maintains close ties with her family while becoming a prolific poet whose work becomes recognized after her death in 1886.
THE CAST – Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle & Keith Carradine
THE TEAM – Terrence Davies (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 125 Minutes
By Matt N.
Despite having countless movies based off of her own work, the famous poet Emily Dickinson herself has never been the major subject of a feature-length motion picture. That now changes with “A Quiet Passion” which features quite possibly a career-best performance from Cynthia Nixon in the lead role. Writer/Director Terrence Davies chooses to not to totally focus in on the “comedy of manners” aspect that made a film like last year’s “Love & Friendship” such a joy but instead focuses more in on the drama surrounding Emily Dickinson that is thematically deep and melancholy in its depiction on screen.
Following her younger days to her final ones as a reclusive artist who’s work went unrecognized until after her death, “A Quiet Passion” shows the ups and downs of the life of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon). She may not have conformed to society’s rules, nor did she ever marry and have children, but she had her mind. With her family at her side (Jennifer Ehle plays her sister Lavinia while Keith Carradine plays their father Edward), Emily’s work goes unnoticed, as time’s instrument known as death sneaks its way towards her and everyone she loves.
Despite the film being over two hours long and filled with a lot of drama that threatens to weigh it down, Terrence Davies strikes a great balance between the comedy and drama here and ultimately, finds the right level of pacing to make this costume drama roll along. There is so much going on deep beneath the surface of “A Quiet Passion” that it ultimately proves to be worth the investment, even if, like me, you fear costume dramas. Emily Dickinson proves to be quite the character to root for as we see this free-spirited and independent woman rebel against the laws of society around her until she becomes trapped by it and lives out the rest of her days as a recluse. Cynthia Nixon is absolutely stellar in the leading role and conveys a wide range of emotions as we see this bright and likable writer suffer from her own self-loathing and is eventually brought down by her own loneliness and lack of recognition. She is intelligent, bold and unbelievably captivating, eclipsing her acclaimed dramatic work in “James White.” She truly is Oscar-worthy here. The rest of the cast is all-around strong as they help support Cynthia Nixon in her transfixing performance. From Keith Carradine to Jennifer Ehle, everyone plays their role at the right notes so as to not take anything away from Nixon who should be and is the star of the film.
This is a film that is about a poet and is also poetic in its presentation through the screenplay. It is about life, death, fame, loneliness, spirituality and a ton of other themes which are all encompassed within this brief film. Despite “A Quiet Passion” not appearing to be cinematic at first glance, it proves to be one of the deeper film experiences one might have this year. Although Terrence Davies strikes a remarkable balance with the script and the pacing of the film, he does not give the film a ton in the way of cinematography. The film can come off a bit bland at times both visually and for what he does (Or doesn’t do in this case) with the camera. There’s no denying that this feels staged at times but much like “Fences,” is elevated by its screenplay, performances, and direction.
“A Quiet Passion” starts off jarringly as it explores Emily Dickinson’s earlier life, equipped with some surprising CGI to boot. However, the more this film went on, the more I became drawn into it. I became immersed in Emily Dickinson’s mind, her work and her undoing. Her battles with society, spirituality, and illness give this biopic a tonal balance that feels complete and totally rewarding. Terrence Davies previously impressed me with “Sunset Song.” While not as visually brilliant as that previous film, he along with Cynthia Nixon makes “A Quiet Passion” worth the viewing.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A well balanced screenplay, with confident direction and an extraordinary performance from Cynthia Nixon.
THE BAD – Feels a bit too staged at times on an aesthetic level.