When this writer found out that a British director has made a biop about Emily Dickinson, the famous 19 Century poet, he breathlessly called his wife, a fan of the Belle of Amherst, with the news. The woman gave a surprising answer.

“Why?”

The writer’s wife quickly explained that while the talented and no doubt lovely Miss Dickinson had a rich interior life, her actual life’s story was not very remarkable. She was painfully shy, never traveled far from her New England home, and never married.

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So how does one do a biographical film about Emily Dickinson and make it enjoyable?

Of course, one could make things interesting, as some have Jane Austin or the life of Abraham Lincoln, and conjure up a plague of zombies or vampires in quiet Amherst. “Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me.”

Terrance Davis, the director, thankfully did not resort to such artifice. He instead mined an ordinary life and found a woman with a sense of fun who was nevertheless terrified of change, particularly where her family was concerned, according to an article in the UK Independent.

BERLINALE 2016: A QUIET PASSION BY TERENCE DAVIES (ENG) | - desistfilm.com
BERLINALE 2016: A QUIET PASSION BY TERENCE DAVIES (ENG) | - desistfilm.com

Dickinson was a groundbreaking poet, particularly stylistically. She was no feminist icon, to be sure, but was “quietly subversive” in the way she dealt with 19th Century society.

Cynthia Nixon, best known for playing one of the slutty ladies in “Sex and the City” plays Dickinson and by all accounts does it well. Showings of “A Quiet Passion” at film festivals in Berlin, Toronto, and London have been well received by both the critics and audiences.

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The movie opens in the UK in November 2016 and the United States in the first quarter of 2017.

This writer will no doubt be dragged to see this decidedly chick flick, but he loves anything historical so it won’t be too painful an experience. Dickinson may not be like a number of male poets, mad, bad, and dangerous to know like Byron or adventurous (and politically incorrect) like Kipling. But she lived in a time when poetry was written about important things before the social justice warriors seized control of the genre and made it irrelevant.

 

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