While I’m not especially familiar with Terence Davies’ filmography, the films I have seen up until now haven’t quick worked for me. Something about his lyrical, sedate style left me more underwhelmed than entranced. A Quiet Passion – his recent biopic of poet Emily Dickinson (Emma Bell/Cynthia Nixon) – is the exception, a charming and sharp-edged film possessing undeniable artistry.
Nor am I particular across the works of Dickinson, but the version of her Davies portrays is captivating. Early scenes suggest a rebellious spirit defined by a fascination with and resistance to the conservative Christian culture of the time. There’s a Stillman-esque comedy to these scenes, filled with bon mots and repartee. That sours as the years go on into something more secluded, more serious – all the while retaining an elliptical, energetic rhythm true to Dickinson’s poetry.
Nixon is superb here; she manages to evoke a youthful energy early on and, despite no overt attempts to age her appearance, you can sense her aging, her bitterness, her resentment grow as the film progresses. She harnesses that inimitable sense of genius but balances it with a bristly exterior that suggests so much pain.
Perhaps it’s time to seek out more of Davies’ work…