Combustible Celluloid
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With: Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Duncan Duff, Keith Carradine, Jodhi May, Joanna Bacon, Catherine Bailey, Emma Bell, Benjamin Wainwright, Annette Badland, Rose Williams, Noémie Schellens, Miles Richardson, Eric Loren, Stefan Menaul, Maurice Cassiers, Sara Vertongen, Barney Glover, Simone Milsdochter, Yasmin Dewilde, Marieke Bresseleers, Verona Verbakel, Turlough Convery, Trevor Cooper, Tom Kemp
Written by: Terence Davies
Directed by: Terence Davies
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images and brief suggestive material
Running Time: 125
Date: 04/14/2017

A Quiet Passion (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

One Heart from Breaking

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by Terence Davies, A Quiet Passion tells the story of Emily Dickinson, who is regularly considered among the ten best poets of all time. It's a step above many biopics, more sophisticated and less commercial. It's rigorous and austere, and often difficult, as when Emily fights and panics through her agony and seizures due to Bright's disease. It's also extraordinarily articulate, to the point that it frequently sounds more like writing than talking. But for all that it's a quite rewarding experience, with Davies's sophisticated, gentle touch guiding the film throughout. Best of all is Cynthia Nixon in the lead role; she's best known for playing Miranda on Sex in the City, but it seems like she's far more at home in the 19th century than in the 21st. She's incredible.

Davies (Distant Voices, Still Lives, The House of Mirth, The Deep Blue Sea) tells the story largely in disconnected sections, using narrated selections of her sublime poetry, getting across the pertinent information about Dickinson's life. This can seem blocky and surfacy, but the information usually seems to spring from within the settings, rather than being forced into them. The widescreen camerawork is still and graceful, escaping to beautiful outdoor gardens for more hopeful scenes and remaining indoors, in dark rooms, for less hopeful ones. As in most Davies films, music in many forms plays an important part. Jennifer Ehle plays Emily's sister Vinnie, and Keith Carradine is unexpectedly good as their stern father.

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