A Quiet Passion is a stage play that has wandered into movie theatres. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with individual physical elements in this Emily Dickinson biopic, but writer/director Terence Davies (Sunset Song) doesn’t connect with his audience through the medium he’s presenting on.
The main selling point of A Quiet Passion – other than the film’s main poetic subject – is Cynthia Nixon as the wry, emotional Dickinson. Since her departure from HBO’s Sex and the City and the occasional cinematic reunion of that series, Nixon has been experimenting with different roles. Her latest breakout was her exceptional turn as Christopher Abbott’s frail mother in James White, and her work in A Quiet Passion is quite easily on par with that 2015 indie. While not as inappropriate, the role of Emily Dickinson requires Nixon to softly tap into that provocative nature the actor is familiar with when confronting family members or publishers. It’s amusing to watch, and we’re heartbroken when we witness Dickinson’s weaker times. The other supporting performances are of equal calibre.
A Quiet Passion is missing cinematic energy, which results in staggering boredom delivered in slow motion. Davies lurches from scene-to-scene capturing the details and formalities of the time period, but this begs the thought: if the period detail and the performances are this strong now, imagine how riveting everything would be in person.
The audience may be impressed by the film’s aesthetics, but by subjecting these qualities to a routine biopic formula, A Quiet Passion fades into a busy genre of memorable lives that have been given milky adaptations by indifferent, uninspired filmmakers.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie