Terence Davies’s slow and sumptuous A Quiet Passion turns the famously reclusive poet Emily Dickinson (played mostly and hauntedly by Cynthia Nixon) into an unenthusiastic but unshakable martyr for her sex. It’s not that she doesn’t want the piety and domesticity expected of women in her place and time; it’s that she can’t bear the “expected” part — not even when it’s God doing the expecting. This fierce bid for freedom becomes its own sort of prison, as she is gradually forced by her own disappointment to withdraw from the world of conventional humanity. At least she creates some immortal verse along the way — it shows up in voiceover from time to time, apropos and unobtrusive. Against her, Davies sets the vivacious and lovely Vryling Buffam, who understands and approves Emily’s cause but refuses to share her fate. Beside her, a loving sister who shares her fate but does not understand. And above her, a stern father who seems surprised to have raised a daughter who shares his wit, spirit, and self-possession. The rich imagery and controlled composition seem alternately to highlight Dickinson’s unfettered art and to mock her sadly fettered life. (2016) — Matthew Lickona
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