Review: Quiet Passion’s human touch

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RATING: Three and a half stars (3.5 out of 5)

DIRECTOR: Terence Davies (The House Of Mirth)

STARRING: Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Catherine Bailey, Jodhi May.

VERDICT: Before the rhymes, these were the reasons

DON’T come along expecting the biopic of 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson you think you were promised.

For A Quiet Passion is more a carefully designed costume drama, a heavily fictionalised work, which can only imagine what Dickinson’s life must have been like.

Bearing in mind there is so little verified information about Dickinson — the bulk of her best-known writing was not published until after her death — A Quiet Passion’s vision of its subject cannot hope to be definitive.

But it is distinctive — impressively so at times — thanks to a sharply rendered depiction of Dickinson by lead actor Cynthia Nixon.


media_cameraCynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion : all under-recognised poets will recognise this look.

What gradually emerges is a portrait of an artist for whom the basic palette of human emotions were never enough.

It was only in translating her thoughts into words that Dickinson found the textures and colours her poetry became famous for.

Not bad work for a movie whose subject rarely leaves the house, or interacts with few outside her immediate family.


media_cameraThese will not be the last parasols you see in A Quiet Passion. Not by a long, long way.

Director Terence Davies is clearly fascinated by Emily’s intense devotion to her parents and siblings.

To the naked eye, the tight-knit household is a closed social network that should have stifled Dickinson’s rare creativity before as much as a word was written.

What Davies ultimately lands upon (and Nixon often radiantly expresses) is that Emily’s relationships with her nearest and dearest amounted to the perfect incubator for her evolving talents.

As the woman is heard to say herself: “I only want my family. It is not perfect. It is not paradise. But it is far better than anything I could know.”

Originally published as Review: Quiet Passion’s human touch



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