Kevin Saving on

A Quiet Passion

(Hurricane Films, 2016)



Writer/Director Terence Davies' reverential homage to the nineteenth century poetic recluse, Emily Dickinson, succeeds in at least one of its intentions. As the end credits finally begin to roll, it is easy for the audience to feel that they've achieved a closer relationship with Emily's beloved Eternity.


The difficulty, here, is that in order to be able to summon the patience necessary for Cynthia Nixon's two-hour tour de force (metamorphosing from Emma Bell's feisty young New England student into a pain-wracked moribund mystic) you'd have, already, to be a total Dickinsonian Tragic. And -that being so- you'd still then be able to find much to quibble at in the historical tweaks of a story which wilfully endeavours to 'tell it slant'.


One character, Annette Badland's disapproving Aunt Elizabeth, seems to be a composite, whilst another -the peripheral Vryland Buffam (Catherine Bailey)- has been lifted from her place in the factual 'wings' to dispense little bubbles of would-be Wildean wit which, all too often, fall splat. Improbably, the Rev. Charles Wadsworth is shoe-horned in to fill the vacancy that is Emily's Secret Sharer/Master/Looming Man, whilst a confrontational scene, between the indignant poet and her brother's paramour, simply never happened.


All this notwithstanding, there is much to appreciate in A Quiet Passion's tender attention to detail. The ever-excellent Keith Carradine pours himself into his role as the family's bewhiskered patriarch and the under-rated Jodhi May brings a delicate gravity to Emily's put-upon sister-in-law, Susan. The whole film (parts of which were shot on location in the Dickinson's actual garden) is beautifully lit by Florian Hoffmeister and it is difficult not to admire the effort which Davies has taken to cut Emily's determinedly idiosyncratic words into the weft of his screenplay. No classic, this, but a worthy effort nonetheless.


Kevin Saving © 2017