A Quiet PassionLondon Film Festival 2016
10th October 2016 6.00pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
12th October 2016 11.30am at Embankment Garden Cinema
Terence Davies is back on form with A Quiet Passion, an Emily Dickinson biopic that finally achieves the harmony required between his deeply personal technique and the literary demands of the subject matter. It is his best endeavour since Of Time and the City, and demands to be considered among his highest achievements.
Cynthia Nixon gives an outstanding performance as Emily Dickinson, a poet whose sharp wit and personality are apparent even when put through an education conducted by humourless nuns. The film begins as a comedy, and a very funny one, too – reminiscent of Love and Friendship more than The House of Mirth. What is immediately impressive is the casual perfection of the dialogue. Dickinson’s poems often crop up on the soundtrack, impressive as ever; even in conversations with her siblings Vinnie and Austin (Jennifer Ehle and Duncan Duff respectively) and her strict father (Keith Carradine), there is a concise and often zinging quality to discussions on love, gender, and art. Flaubert talked about le mot juste: Davies also practices “le shot juste”, with every moment he directs having an immaculate, considered quality. However, one wouldn’t know it while watching it – Dickinson’s thrillingly anarchic take-downs of religion and beauty are viewed through an empathetic lens, even as other characters chastise her for being spiky.
Some critics have taken against the film, citing its mannered, inhibited approach as a flaw. It is certainly a world away from Distant Voices, Still Lives as there are no sing-alongs in the pub, for one – though there are still a few trademark Davies slow panning 360-degree shots and close-ups of fireplaces and windows. Yet if anything, a restrained approach makes these moments shine all the brighter. A wonderful sequence sees Dickinson dream of greeting a gentleman caller; the camera moves in slow-motion through doorways, and the hitherto scarcity of violin concertos invest the action with an overwhelming poignancy. Often, what a filmmaker doesn’t include is just as interesting as what they do include, and these restrained occasions charge this costume drama with a genuine passion.
Inevitably, as Dickinson spends her life as a shy recluse, ashamed by her plain looks and only publishing close to ten of her hundreds of poems, the focus turns towards death as family members begin dying, and she eventually develops a fatal illness of her own. But Terence Davies has delivered a sublime eulogy for Dickinson – a love letter from one poet to another.
A Quiet Passion does not have a UK release date yet.
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