A Quiet Passion

Many scenes in the film are interrupted by a narrator reading a Dickinson poem. It causes you to remember why you probably find most of her poetry to be a bit dull.

A Quiet PassionA Quiet Passion is like a racehorse that breaks quickly from the gate only to lose momentum in the back stretch. In both cases you end up tearing up your ticket and wonder why you wasted your money.

The film is directed by Terence Davies, and I sat down with a great deal of trepidation given his previous lackluster film Sunset Song (2015). That film seemed to promote tedium as entertainment and I was hoping that A Quiet Passion escaped that trap. I was wrong.

A Quiet Passion tells the life story of the renowned poet Emily Dickinson. Born in 1830, she lived a sheltered life with two caring parents (Keith Carradine and Joanna Bacon) and a brother and sister who became her best friends.

The film begins with some great promise as it shows Ms. Dickinson as a young woman who rejected religious and social mores of the time. Refusing to go to church and listen to sermons that she considered nonsense, she also firmly rejected the way women were treated as second class citizens.

With the help of her father, she begins to pursue her poetry. Absent her witty and sarcastic interaction with her friend Ms. Buffam, played in spectacular fashion by Catherine Bailey, she gradually becomes a recluse over time. Her brother Austin (Duncan Duff) grows increasingly distant after the Civil War and it quickly becomes apparent that Ms. Dickinson is only able to maintain a dwindling connection with the outside world with the help of her sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle).

While Cynthia Nixon deserves credit for her performance as Ms. Dickinson, the film largely loses any substance during its last half. Nearly every scene is filmed in the Dickinson home, and you gradually begin to feel the same closed-in anguish experienced by members of the Dickinson clan.

This film is a reminder of why Emily Dickinson was only honored after she died.