A Quiet Passion

6.52 h 5 min2016PG-13
Cynthia Nixon delivers a triumphant performance as Emily Dickinson, personifying the biting wit and staunch independence of the great American poet, who would not be recognized until after her death. Revered British director Terence Davies exquisitely evokes the manners, mores and spiritual convictions of the period with which Dickinson struggled before finding transcendence in her poetry.
Terence Davies
Cynthia NixonJennifer EhleKeith Carradine
English [CC]
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Supporting actors
Jodhi MayEmma Bell
Roy BoulterSolon Papadopoulos
Music Box Films
PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
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3.2 out of 5 stars

633 global ratings

  1. 38% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 13% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 12% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 10% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 27% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

S JonesReviewed in the United States on September 21, 2017
1.0 out of 5 stars
Why Didn't Emily Get Her Hands Dirty?
There is a scene in A Quiet Passion which encapsulates all of what is horrible, dishonest and blinkered about this irritating movie. Emily Dickinson asks someone to remove a single, perfectly browned loaf of bread from a clean, tidy oven.

But we never see Dickinson baking the bread, getting her hands dirty, being sweaty, tending the finicky and devilishly hot, wood burning stove. In fact, we never see her getting dressed, doing chores, tending to the daily drudgery, which she in fact did - she baked for the entire family, and she cared for her ailing mother much sooner than the film suggests. This is important, because to understand Dickinson you have to get this fact - She. Worked. Hard. She labored. Later in life, Dickinson would have probably been more handy around the house than most adult men today. Instead, we see a disembodied Emily, all bon mots, quips and, most horrible of all - a contrarian, an intellectual gainsayer who seems to take nasty pleasure in verbally wounding others. This is 21st Century narcissistic swill - where we remake our heroines in our own image: as “poetic souls”, tortured, victimized by the Patriarchy and embittered by frustrated genius. This misses the brilliance of who she was and what she actually did. To appreciate the lightness of her poetry you need to understand the sheer physical weight of her world, a world she somehow transcended - not out of noble bitterness or through some proto-feminist defiance, as the movie suggests, but through her own grace, and what was undoubtedly acceptance of her role. She was naturally introverted and her focus was quite comfortably on the domestic. Her poetry fed her and buoyed her and grew out of a love for and comfort with herself.

To cut her off at the neck and to make her a disagreeable intellectual, marginalizes not only her poetry but her inherent lightness of being.
676 people found this helpful
Alyssa A. LappenReviewed in the United States on November 24, 2017
1.0 out of 5 stars
Poetic sacrilege
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I had been told, when this movie was first issued, that it was fantastic.

Oh my goodness, how disappointed I am now that I have seen it.

Poetry is a first love for me, and Emily Dickinson one of the reasons for it. Her work is so perfect, so light, so truthful, so plain and simple in its statements that there is not an ounce of such angst and bitterness as we see here in the representation given by Cynthia Nixon.

One other reviewer said that this is not so much the fault of the actress, but of the script. Actually, I think it is both. The effort to be earnest results in a kind of stiffness, an inhumanity I cannot imagine in the poet famed only posthumously. The acting is so overdone it is awful. Truly awful.

Emily Dickinson is far better presented, I daresay, in Elizabeth Spires' [[ASIN:0374454116 Mouse of Amherst]] than in this movie.

Yes, the poetry is lovely, but it's hard to focus on that beauty given the film's disappointing presentation of the work, through Nixon's highly uninspired readings, in concert with background music. It's poetic sacrilege.

I much prefer the view of Emily Dickinson presented in Spires' short children's novel, in which a mouse named Emmaline resides in the wainscoting of the poet's bedroom and enters a poetic dialogue with the reticent, demure---and extraordinarily gifted---woman.

This movie, by contrast, in focusing on Emily Dickinson's unhappiness and pain, rather than her sheer delight in life, her poignant understanding of all matters human, despite her solitary existence, makes a sham of her.

This film, in focusing on misery, defiles the beauty of her work.

I so wish that someone would make a film about this greatest of American poets and celebrate her, much as did Jane Campion's [[ASIN:0143117742 Bright Star]], the 2009 British-French-Australian biographical fiction based on the last three years in the life of John Keats, and his love for Fanny Brawne.

This film, too, has fictions, as other reviewers have noted, but the net result is a sad misrepresentation of one of the greatest American literary figures of all time.

This film is an unmitigated disaster.
134 people found this helpful
B. StockwellReviewed in the United States on November 16, 2017
2.0 out of 5 stars
The Emily Dickinson Story - starring Sylvia Plath
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I'm a fan of Dickinson's work, but I'm not a genuine fanatic. I don't have a picture of her on my wall, refer to her as ”Emily,” or swoon over how wonderful it would've been to know her. Still, I'm familiar enough with her life to know this film wanted to be accurate – then decided you could have a more “gritty” and “relevant” film if you just made things up.

Here's the disclaimer from the film's credits, an apology which should have prefaced the film: “Whilst this motion picture is based around real persons and events, many of the characters and incidents contained herein are fictitious. Resemblance between the film and actual characters or events is for dramatic purpose only and does not reflect on real.events or persons.” That's putting it mildly. Many of the characters and incidents are fictitious: one of them, the improbably named Vryling Wilder Buffum, is quite annoying, serving only to tediously spout what are supposed to be witty and wicked things - and which aren't. The film does not reflect on real events or persons: other reviews have pointed out the historic inaccuracies. What is genuinely obnoxious about this film is its fixation on showing Emily Dickinson wrote pretty poems while living a pretty awful life.

SPOILER ALERTS: if you want to see Emily Dickinson in her death throes being (ineptly) chloroformed, this film is for you. If you want to see her in excruciating pain as she deals, year after year, with liver failure, this film is for you. If you want to see her scream at family servants that it doesn't take three people to pull bread from an oven; if you want to see her deliberately insult, abuse, and hurt the feelings of everyone from admirers of her work to members of her family; if you want to see her choice to remain unmarried treated as an unending source of regret and agony; if you want to see women weep, and weep a great deal; if you want to see those same women make faux-insightful Jane-Austinesque pronouncements and deliver vapid one-liners regarding morals and society; if you want to see Emily Dickinson get into cruel screaming matches with her brother and sister, smashing a breakfast plate to show her father how spirited she is, if you want to see her in convulsions and flopping on her bedroom floor and bed like a freshly caught trout, then – yes – this is the Emily Dickinson film you've been waiting for.

SPOILER ALERT: in real life, Dickinson's brother endured a loveless marriage and Emily Dickinson was relieved when he had an affair that gave him comfort and freed him to show passion. In the film, Emily Dickinson, who never met her brother's lover, catches them making out on a sofa and spends the next few scenes tearing him apart for it; relentlessly and angrily. He responds in kind.

In this Bergmanesque take on genteel Amherst, it seems as if the intent was to turn Emily Dickinson into a Marvel Superhero, complete with an evil nemesis who forces her to examine her Dark Side, realize Unsettling Truths about her existence, and vacuum all the joy out of the film. Her archenemy turns out to be the always-unseen but malevolent presence known as English writer/director Terence Davies.

Thanks, Terence, for presenting us with an Emily Dickinson who spend her life in dreary emotional agony; oppressed, tormented by a world she never made, and with no chance of escape. Thank you for taking a fascinating historic figure - and turning her into a literary cliche.
55 people found this helpful
Drew OdomReviewed in the United States on January 22, 2018
2.0 out of 5 stars
Emily Dickinson as Terrence Davies
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Here my twelve most important objections to A Quiet Passion:

1. The opening scene was, like so much of the movie, historically false. The woman who was, I assume, either a dean or the president of Holyoke was a fiction. Holyoke was no modern day evangelical school, but stressed, as ED alludes to in the movie, real education, including the sciences. All private schools in those days in New England, and most other places as well, were either begun or continued to be supported by churches. My own began in the late 18th as a Presbyterian school for the Oneida tribe's children and, though completely secular when I attended, nonetheless had a Calvinist as dean of the chapel, which we were required to attend. But the figure in the film was ludicrous. Everything she said sounded like a fundamentalist. Davies does not know, apparently, that that sort of crude fundamentalism was a late 19th c. invention.

2. The figure of Miss Buffoon, I will call her, was a fabrication. She was also absurd. One of the great flaws of a pervasively flawed move was the way, throughout, everyone spoke in epigrams more fitting to Oscar Wilde that Amherst in the middle of the 19th century. Everyone in the movie, including much of the time ED, sounded as if they were on stage in England performing either in Wilde or Restoration comedy, Miss Buffoon the worst of the bunch. That almost everything she said was implausible I will leave as obvious, without elaboration.

3. ED's father was difficult, but he was no tyrant, as the movie often depicts him. She was devoted to both her parents.

4. Samuel Bowles did say, in effect, "Damn it, Emily. I have come all the way from Springfield to see you. Come down here." And she did. But they were friends already and had been for quite some time. In his view, she was exasperating, as no doubt she was to contemporaries some of the time. But theirs was a warm relationship. TD makes it seem they had never met before. The following speech was entirely made up, as, of course, was almost all the dialogue in the movie. None of it had the ring of truth or even plausibility.

5. Why was the young man who came "courting" several times both nameless and obviously some twenty years or more younger than she? Why was Judge Otis Lord, referred to once, excluded from the film since he was the one man, though older than she by a number of years, she was seen to be embraced by after her reclusion had begun? That is, anyone expecting insight into ED’s relationship with men needs to look elsewhere. This movie distorts it both by what it does and does not do.

6. Sue Gilbert Dickinson and ED had a complex and strange relationship since Sue was, it would seem from what record there is, a loving, sweet, but rather uncomplicated person. As everyone knows, they did live next door. (Incidentally, the house TD used to film the movie looked in nothing like the Homestead.) But no one can know for sure what her and ED’s relationship was exactly, save for the fact that it was for a good while an intense friendship, at least on ED's part, as expressed her poetry. From what we don't know we ought to keep a certain distance and reserve. Be that as it may, Sue's nighttime visit to ED and her speech that made it sound as if she found heterosexuality repugnant was absurd. It never happened nor could it ever have happened.

7. There is a lot of complaining about the absence of women's voices in the movie. This, too, is more representative of modern day feminism than that of the 19th century. The fact is that women were publishing a lot, some of it good, most of it execrable. You remember that wonderfully comic moment in Huck Finn when the worst sort of lachrymose women's poetry is mocked, in that instance work by a young girl poet lately deceased. There is no mention in the film, for instance, of Helen Hunt Jackson, one of the best known writers of her era and a friend of ED who worked tirelessly for indigenous people's rights. There was a lot more to women's writing in those days than the Brontes and, later, Middlemarch.

8. Much of the religious "enthusiasm" in that era was owing to The Second Great Awakening. The largest outburst of it was during ED's early years (and slightly before). It was a response, in part, to the increasing secularism and materialism of American society. It was to that that ED's father, and some of her friends, responded. TD seems to have confused it with contemporary fundamentalism or the revivalism of a Billy Sunday.

9. Which point takes me to Charles Wadsworth. Nothing about his wife is historical. She is ridiculously puritanical. (Nearly everyone of any sort of religious sentiment in a TD film is mocked and belittled, with the possible except of one character in Neon Bible.) Nothing about the rest of the way in which the film portrays Wadsworth is valid, save for the fact that she heard him preach and he moved to San Francisco. It has been speculated that her "Master" letters were written to him, but speculation it remains, so far as I know.

10. ED never met Mabel Loomis Todd. Never. She never walked in on her and Austin making love. She knew about the affair of course. But she never saw the woman. And, of course, nothing is known about her reactions to that affair. MLT was one of the people who were responsible for ED's subsequent fame. She published the poems that made her earlier reputation (pre-WW2; it was only after that time that the deeper scholarly work on ED began, resulting in the first publication of her work nearly complete, though still with much altered punctuation). The fact is that to this day ED has yet to be published as she probably would have wished, with her poems devoid of nearly all punctuation except for hyphens, shaped in curious line lengths, and gathered together in fascicles (that you see her sewing in the film). But (and this is an important but since so many these days excoriate those early "editors" like Mabel Loomis Todd) without the original having been tampered with, ED's poetry never would have succeeded as it did, when it did. It took late modernism for people to champion her work as composed.

11. The matter of Schubert's Nacht und Traume, sung twice in the film is perplexing. The credits state that that was Jenny Lind singing in Boston. If so, what was she doing singing Schubert and singing him so badly? This was no Swedish nightingale. I has assumed that TD has an ear for music. I have decided it is probably the music that makes Distant Voices, Still Lives succeed, for me almost the only one of his films I can bear to watch anymore. (More on that point in a moment.) Did he deliberately select someone who couldn't sing it to vocalize it for him? Forget the nonsense of the comments made in their boxes by the Dickinson family. It was a terrible performance. Then why does it sound as if when MLT sings it in a drawing room of the Homestead later that it is the same awful performance sung by the same inept singer? NuT is one of the most beautiful lieder ever written. Why deliberately ruin it?

12. I could go on, but I fear tedium. I will return to the aunt at the film's beginning and then make my big point, not only about this film, but about TD's career. The aunt, who if she existed no one knows much about, is another instance in the movie of someone expressing something TD has constructed to express his hatred for it. In this instance, Christian moralism and puritanism. He believes, and about this he might be right, in the version of it he suffered from, it ruined his life. He uses this movie to attack it again and again. But that is the larger problem in the film. Emily Dickinson in the movie is not Emily Dickinson. No one knows much about her, not enough for a movie like this. She is Terrence Davies. Almost everything she says, all her speeches, are in one way or another expressions of what Terrence Davies has said about himself: his loneliness, his despair over his looks, his sense of isolation, his detestation of religion, his hatred for the bourgeois, his pervasive bitterness, his despair before death, his sense that life is mostly cruel and awful, that the body is its inevitable corruption, his self-loathing, especially toward his sexuality. All these and more he has embodied in his ED. It is the "voice" of all his films, from the almost comically gloom Trilogy to this one.

There is a wonderful visual artistry in his movies. Those are best which are least scripted, the one on his boyhood in Liverpool far better, like The Long Day Wanes, than its dialogue or voice overs. Distant Voices, Still Lives is redeemed by its music. But consider the scene at ED's death bed. How stagey Lavinia's and Austin's tears are over her departed soul. Those staged tears recur through Davies films. Maybe the first time seen they might move you. But repeated time after time they lose any power and become stylized and false.

For me, the worst desecration in the film is how TD has transformed ED into himself, making her, one of the greatest poets of all time, into a spokesperson for himself. She is channeling him, to use that phrase, not he her. Almost everything her actors speak in the movie make sense only when heard and viewed with that understanding.
47 people found this helpful
mattgb1Reviewed in the United States on December 9, 2017
1.0 out of 5 stars
This movie ruined Emily Dickinson for me.
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How could they mess this up so badly? What a travesty! I wanted so much to like this movie that I kept watching it all the way through, convinced that with such talented actors, such a good subject, and such beautiful cinematography, that it had to be good. It was beyond horrible.

The dialog was not even dialog: it was a series of whining, sanctimonious speeches and stiff-legged oratory delivered with little or no connection to anything said before or after. The over-the-top emoting had no basis in the so-called story-line.

I loved the poetry of Emily Dickinson for over 40 years of my life. Notice my use of the past tense here, because now I won't be able to return to her poems without seeing them in the light of the oppressive, tedious, insufferably mind-numbing world this movie portrays.
40 people found this helpful
Critical EyeReviewed in the United States on January 1, 2018
1.0 out of 5 stars
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So awful. In trying to capture the quietude of Dickinson's life, the writer/director has made this film so stylized that it drags to the point of boredom. Nixon looks so old, it is difficult at any point in the proceedings to guess what age she should be. Jennifer Ehle, best known for her role in Pride and Prejudice, is the film's one bright spark. She is the only one who delivers her lines the way an actress should; all the others sound as if they are in some school play where they've all forgotten their lines and are waiting for the prompter to whisper the part from the wings. And the continuity of the script completely falters at times---certain scenes seem disconnected from anything else and without reason for being there. The Civil War is touched upon, along with Lincoln's Gettysburg address, and then nothing more is made of it. In fact, nothing much is made of anything--most likely, the film shouldn't have been made either.
28 people found this helpful
BuckminsterReviewed in the United States on November 16, 2017
1.0 out of 5 stars
Not Enjoyable To Watch
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I usually love movies that explore great, or at least interesting, people from different historical periods. I fully expected to like this movie; but it was very boring and not worth the two hours spent on it. It is hard to understand Emily Dickinson, the person, from this movie.

It is amazing that the professional critics seem to love it though. This is the second movie that I have watched over the past couple of days where I had a completely polar opposite opinion of the movie from the critics. Funny thing is...the majority of people viewed these two movies almost exactly like I did.

I think many critics are writing reviews to impress each other and not doing a good job of helping movie watchers.
21 people found this helpful
Random Pen NameReviewed in the United States on December 28, 2018
1.0 out of 5 stars
I hate leaving bad reviews, but I can't think of a good thing to say about this movie.
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OK, the costumes and images were nice, but the bizarrely affected acting, stilted delivery, weird American accents which probably have no resemblance to actual period New England accents of the time (why is it so many people insist on old time Americans sounding like modern midwesterners?) and completely enervated style of this film left me absolutely cold. I was expecting a wonderful film after all the amazing critics reviews. The fan reviews did not deter me: I assumed they just "didn't get it". The fans were right this time. I disliked almost everything about this film, it is so stylized and unnatural on every level that every moment of it was off putting and irritating. The delivery of every line drained every word of wit. What a disappointment.
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