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Davies brings Dickinson to life (and vice versa)

The brilliant Terence Davies cast —
Cynthia Nixon in —
A Quiet Passion as the great —
Emily Dickinson.

The poet’s played by Emma Bell —
In the opening scenes —
Where Emily embraces doubt —
And authenticity.

But then — the wonder of the sight —
family portraits change! —
These younger Dickinsons evolve —
To a wiser, troubled age.

And so her life unfolds in all —
Its angst and honesty —
Her faith a discipline of truth —
And nonconformity.

Duncan Duff, Jennifer Ehle, Cynthia Nixon, Miles Richardson, Keith Carradine, and Joanna Bacon in A Quiet Passion. © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films/Courtesy of Music Box Films.

But do we understand her art —
Through Davies’ haunted lens? –
Are we given the secrets to —
These poems of Dickinson’s?

At times it seems (it’s no surprise) —
That Davies chose this muse —
So he could voice his own complaints —
On church and death — his views.

Director Terence Davies. © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films/Courtesy of Music Box Films.

Nevertheless and insofar —
As he is true to her —
Davis gives us a Dickinson —
Prophetic and mature.

All praise to Nixon, so immersed —
Within the role she took —
She disappears and it is clear —
That she is not a crook!

(Sorry.)

But seriously, in an ideal world —
The Academy would save —
An Oscar for this actress now —
She earns all praise and raves.

Cynthia Nixon and Keith Carradine in A Quiet Passion. © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films/Courtesy of Music Box Films.

At heart, this film is less about —
The art of poetry —
And more about life lived for truth —
And not mere piety.

This Emily — her soul’s her own —
She will not acquiesce —
To patriarchal arrogance —
Or feign subservience.

And thus, self-righteousness becomes —
A danger to her art —
Thank God for Jennifer Ehle who,
As Vinnie, owns the part.

Dear Vinnie, she’s the sister —
In whom the poet confides —
A voice of conscience she becomes —
Against Emily’s pride.

Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle in A Quiet Passion. © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films/Courtesy of Music Box Films.

And so a complex portrait shines
Through Davies’ misty eyes —
A singular biopic, oh! —
A glorious surprise.

Does this stand up with Davies’ best?
Not quite, but close, I’d say —
The Long Day Closes tops the list
On Davies’ résumé.

But yes, A Quiet Passion is —
Better than Sunset Song
That melodrama’s pathos, well —
It ran a little strong.

So get thee to the theater —
And watch Brave Emily —
By her truth-telling earn the name —
Guardian of the Galaxy!

Duncan Duff, Jennifer Ehle, Cynthia Nixon, Miles Richardson, Keith Carradine, and Joanna Bacon in A Quiet Passion. © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films/Courtesy of Music Box Films.

Footnote:

If I’d have questioned Davies —
On this screenplay, I’d have said —
Why did you give Ma Dickinson _
Lines from Joyce’s “The Dead”?

 

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Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet

Novelist and critic Jeffrey Overstreet teaches writing (Seattle Pacific University) and film studies (Northwest University and Houston Baptist University). He's written a memoir of moviegoing and faith (Through a Screen Darkly, Baker, 2007) and a fantasy series that begins with Auralia's Colors (The Auralia Thread, Random House, 2007-11). He's worked since 2001 as a film critic and columnist at Christianity Today, and he's been a regular contributor to Image, Paste, and Christ & Pop Culture. His writing has been recognized by The New Yorker and The Seattle Times. He regularly speaks at universities, conferences, and churches in the U.S. and abroad. Want to invite him to teach or speak? Email joverstreet@gmail.com.