Cynthia Nixon plays Emily Dickinson as a sour and embittered spinster in Terence Davies’s cold-as-ice “A Quiet Passion,” a movie that won’t encourage many in the audience to seek out Dickinson’s sublime poetry. The Emily of this movie seems to survive primarily to take everyone in her orbit to task. Davies is holding her up as the indomitable spirit of genius – a woman who suffers fools not at all.
I appreciate his desire to counteract the usual romantic cinematic clichés of divinely inspired tortured souls, but he’s overcorrected and created an anti-cliché: the harridan as heroine. In supporting roles, Jennifer Ehle as Emily’s sister and Keith Carradine as her indulgently authoritarian father help somewhat to thaw out the proceedings. Grade: C (Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, and brief suggestive material.)