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With Jim Sabatini

A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion
Emma Bell, Cynthia Nixon, and Jennifer Ehle

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images and brief suggestive material.
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: April 14, 2017 Released by: Music Box Films

A literary biopic of Emily Dickinson is tackled by director/writer Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea, The House of Mirth) as a stylized, slightly embellished 19th Century piece with a gradually dirge-like vibe more representative of the cloistered, obscure artist who would be remembered as a genius upon her passing at age 55.

A Quiet Passion has Davies evincing a painterly quality in a natty production that may be considered too rigid or stolid, especially in terms of mood; yet it fits given the setting and the status of the Dickinson family in Amherst, Massachusetts. The younger Emily (Emma Bell) doesn't have the kind of faith that would put her on the right side of a room at Mt. Holyoke Seminary for ladies.

The older Emily (captured with distinctive range by Cynthia Nixon, a Tony and Emmy award winner and best known as Miranda Hobbes from a popular HBO series starring Sarah Jessica Parker) remains at home with her younger vibrant sister Lavinia (a jostling, jocular Jennifer Ehle of Contagion and Little Men). As well as her parents like imperious dad Edward (Keith Carradine) with whom she has some heated conversation, like religion.

The use of voice-over in the formative life of one who chooses poetry considered by many to be odd at the time with some of her work published in the Springfield Republican is an interesting choice of expression of the creative process. What Ms. Dickinson had to endure physically, as well as emotionally, will probably be a downer, though a vivid interpretation of a life's vicissitudes.

But, A Quiet Passion has a droll demean more often in its early sections as a nice camaraderie develops among Emily, Vinnie, and Catherine Bailey's brash Vryling Buffam. Davies uses a panning technique to capture the Dickinson household that is remembered and a nifty Daguerreotype from a sitting portrait to augment intended motifs. The sum may not be as satisfyingly fluent as the pitch-perfect Love & Friendship with a terrifically conniving Kate Beckinsale, but Nixon cannily enkindles the vision of a unique talent enveloped by bitterness, frustration, and despair.

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A Quiet Passion        B                     B 

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