The British filmmaker Terence Davies has often told stories about women trapped in the rigid customs of an earlier era, including The House of Mirth, The Deep Blue Sea and Sunset Song. With his new film, A Quiet Passion, the writer-director turns his attention to a real-life subject, the poet Emily Dickinson. Film critic Justin Chang says

“For most of the movie, Dickinson is played by Cynthia Nixon, who gives a brilliant performance of steely wit, but also surprising vulnerability. As she moves through the sunny gardens and lamp-lit drawing rooms of 19th-century Amherst, Massachusetts, Nixon’s Emily rebukes every reductive image we have of her as a dour, reclusive spinster. She is, on the contrary, a brilliant conversationalist and a lover of good company. She is also a gifted poet, who spends the wee hours of the morning lost in her writing, making what will one day be hailed as a monumental contribution to American literature.

She does this with the permission of her father, played by Keith Carradine, who is both enchanted and exasperated by his daughter’s razor-sharp mind and ungovernable spirit. The scenes of the Dickinsons together at home, beautifully filmed by the cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, are a delight, even the ones that roil with tension. You understand that this is a household where both religious devotion and intellectual freedom have been nurtured and allowed to coexist. Written and directed by the British filmmaker Terence Davies, A Quiet Passion creates an inner world that, for all its rigid social and personal constraints, feels alive with the possibilities of language. The formal dialogue, with its stately, mannered rhythms, becomes a kind of music. Simply listening to it can be bewildering at first, then absorbing, then transfixing. Its purpose, in line with the highest ideals of poetry itself, is to clear the mind and stir the soul.”


More details from the PBS Great Expectations production starring Gillian Anderson.

Great Expectations (2011) for PBS Masterpiece Theatre.

Directed by Brian Kirk. Cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister (Hysteria, Mortdecai). Production Design by David Roger (The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Fanny Hill, Pursuasion). Art Direction by Paul Ghirardani (Game of Thrones, Being Julia, The Importance of Being Earnest, Anna and the King) and Kat Law (Desperate Romantics, Sense and Sensibility (TV), Absolute Power). Set Decoration by Jo Kornstein (The Suspicions of Mr. Wincher, Fanny Hill).