DVD Review by Kam Williams
Extraordinary Emily Dickinson Biopic Available on Home Video
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) had less than a dozen of her 1,800 poems published, while she was still alive. Since she was only appreciated posthumously, it makes sense that a movie about her life might revolve around something other than the literary prowess that went unrecognized by her contemporaries.
In bringing her story to the big screen, writer/director Terrence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) wisely resisted the temptation to pore over the prolific scribe’s evocative verses in favor of plumbing the depths of her terribly tortured soul. The upshot of that endeavor is A Quiet Passion, an exquisite costume drama alternately presenting the protagonist as an iconoclastic visionary and as a retiring recluse.
On the macro level, the socially-conscious production subtly suggests that the agnostic, feminist abolitionist was ahead of her time and withdrew from the world in response to being raised in an era when evangelism, slavery and male chauvinism were the order of the day. Meanwhile, on the micro level, the character-driven drama telescopes intensely on a fragile psyche ostensibly further crippled by a cloistered existence.
As the film unfolds, we find Emily (played in her teens by Emma Bell, later as an adult by Cynthia Nixon) just finishing a frustrating freshman year at Mount Holyoke. She soon decides to drop out due to the pressure being unfairly exerted by the school’s president, Mary Lyon (Sara Vertongen), to conform to the outwardly pious practices dictated by the Christian revival movement. Introspective Emily rebels because she sees her relationship with God as a direct and personal matter as opposed to one demanding public displays of devotion at church services.
So, she returns to Amherst, Massachusetts, where she again takes up residence on the grounds of the Dickinson family estate inhabited by her parents (Keith Carradine and Joanna Bacon), brother (Duncan Duff) and sister (Jennifer Ehle). Unfortunately, headstrong Emily proves unable to bite her tongue when visitors like the local pastor (Miles Richardson) or even a potential suitor (Stefan Menaul) come a callin’.
Although she does eventually make trusted confidantes of her sister-in-law Susan (Jodhi May) and the equally-irreverent Mabel Loomis Todd (Noemie Schellens), her preference remains the solitude of the remote, upstairs bedroom which affords her the opportunity to craft her immortal poems in secret. Cynthia Nixon has never been more convincing than conveying the emotional fires simmering just beneath the surface of such a stoic countenance.
A melancholy mood piece for the ages!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, disturbing images and suggestive material
Production Studio: Hurricane Films
Running time: 126 minutes
Distributor: Music Box Films
DVD Extras: Q&A with writer/director Terence Davies and Cynthia Nixon; and a behind-the-scenes featurette
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Source: Baret News