Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle and Keith Carradine star in Terence Davies’ lively, witty and ultimately intensely moving dramatisation of the sheltered life of 19th-century New England poet Emily Dickinson.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2016
Terence Davies’ portrait of 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, played acutely well by Cynthia Nixon, may be the perfect match of filmmaker and subject. Even audiences unfamiliar with Davies’ autobiographical classics (Distant Voices, Still Lives; The Long Day Closes) will surely feel the sway of an intense identification.
“From the very opening scene, in which a stern, shrew-faced schoolmistress addresses her matriculating pupils – including the young Emily Dickinson – on the importance of faith and the perils of nonconformity, it’s clear we’re in safe hands…
Only the first 20 minutes or so depict Emily’s youth, and they may surprise with their light-hearted, quasi-Wildean repartee as the fiercely intelligent young woman exchanges opinions on life and art – and, more particularly, on the place of women in a patriarchal society – with her outspoken friend Vryling Buffam.
But an ellipsis… speeds us forward into Emily’s later years, where her lack of recognition as a poet, her growing loneliness and her frustrations regarding gender inequality and creative integrity make for an increasing reclusiveness and an ever more loudly voiced bitterness…
The film is not only a compelling and finally very affecting portrait of the poet as an ageing woman, but another entirely fresh variation on the themes that have preoccupied Davies since his earliest work. To put it simply, there are moments here that are utterly and gloriously Davies: no other filmmaker would have dreamed them up, let alone have executed them with such exquisite delicacy.” — Geoff Andrew, Sight & Sound
“Great acting usually coincides with great direction, and, while the entire cast moves and speaks with a sense of inner purpose, Nixon’s performance is special. (If she’s not nominated for an Oscar in whichever year this movie is released, I’ll eat the pixels.) Her incarnation of Dickinson seems to rise outward from the bone; she seems frozenly poised with, yes, a quiet passion that’s all the more impassioned for its unplanned quietness.” — Richard Brody, New Yorker