British Film Festival Review: A Quiet Passion

British Film Festival Review: A Quiet Passion

A portrait of the 19th-century American poet, Emily Dickinson, who died in 1886 as an unrecognised artist, tracing her life from a school girl into adulthood.


A quiet masterpiece.

Terence Davies is surely one of the greatest directors working in the English language. Selective and eclectic in his choice of material, he is renowned for exquisite framing and lighting, as much as for his innate ability to guide actors to career-defining performances.

And thus he has done with Cynthia Nixon in this bio-pic of American poet Emily Dickinson. Being offered the role of Dickinson must have been terrifying and thrilling. But with Davies’ script and direction, Nixon has proven herself an actor of unimpeachable talent and depth.

Working alongside Nixon are Jennifer Ehle as her sister Vinnie, Keith Carradine as her father Edward, and Duncan Duff as her brother Austin. All put in fine performances, although Duff seems slightly uncomfortable and never quite hits the mark. Florian Hoffmeister, who previously worked with Davies on The Deep Blue Sea, has delivered cinematography that could hang in a gallery. So could the production design by Merjin Sept and Manolito Glas.

Davies’ script is exemplary: he delves into Dickinson’s interior life and takes the time to paint a rich, layered portrait of her family dynamic. Nixon is also given space in which to take the audience through Dickenson’s suffering with what was then known as “Bright’s Disease” (acute nephritis). Her poetry is delivered in voice-overs by Nixon and others, and Davies’ choice of work is perfect.

This film is draining in the way that only brilliant cinema is. It is two hours long and, although it never lags, there are times when the emotion is almost too much. It is overwhelming in its intensity and in its brilliance.

A Quiet Passion is film-making perfection. There is not a missed beat. There is not a scene which is not stunning in its subtlety of framing. There is not a moment when the performances seem forced, or the script over-written.

This could just be the best thing Davies has ever done.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Rating out of 10:  10

A Quiet Passion will screen again on 13 and 22 November for the BBC First British Film Festival, which runs 3 – 23 November 2016 exclusively at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.

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