Forever the patron saint of spinsters who can turn a phrase but don’t turn heads — represent! — prolific poet Emily Dickinson finally gets the biopic treatment in Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion. The picture follows her life from a vivacious, contrarian teenager (Emma Bell) to a reclusive adult (Cynthia Nixon), worn down by her own demons and by her oppressive puritan society, in which (mostly) men are forever telling her that the things she says and thinks are inappropriate. Though it bears thematic similarities to Davies’ previous film, Sunset Song, A Quiet Passion lacks that film’s Malickian sweep, since an agoraphobic hero doesn’t allow for magic-hour vistas. The result is a less meandering, more involving film aided by a stronger central performance and Dickinson’s canon to mine for dialogue and narration. A Quiet Passion also contains one of the best scenes of 2017, as Dickinson chews out her newspaper’s publisher for altering the punctuation of her highly stylized words. When he brushes off changing the occasional hyphen or semicolon, she lays out the truth: “The only person qualified to interfere with a poet’s work is the poet herself. From anyone else, it feels like an attack.” Even writers with only a millionth of her talent — and that’s all of us — can relate.
A Quiet Passion
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.