April 17, 2017
Though biopics of famous and important people are all the rage these days, it’s little wonder Emily Dickinson has been largely absent from the silver screen. Dickinson lived the majority of her life at her family’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts, save for a brief stay at an all-female seminary. And though she wrote over 1,800 poems, Dickinson published only 11 during her lifetime. She died at 55 having never received the acclaim she deserved.
But then, independent filmmaker Terence Davies, the director of the new Dickinson film A Quiet Passion, has never made films with obvious commercial prospects. Two of Davies’ previous films — Distant Voices, Still Lives, and The Long Day Closes — chronicled the lives of ordinary, blue-collar English characters; in his The House of Mirth and Sunset Song, Davies adapted books by Edith Wharton and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, seemingly only for the English-major demographic.
A Quiet Passion takes place almost entirely at The Homestead, where Dickinson struggles with her lack of renown despite her voluminous poetic output (she also suffers from some serious existential angst). And yet, Davies’ Dickinson is far from dull; Davies writes Dickinson (portrayed by Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon) as a firebrand feminist before her time. In one scene, she tells off her brother when he implies that women lead an easy, domestic life; in another, she snaps at a suitor who she fears might steal her independence.