I should be finishing the Bleak House book (because the #DickensChallenge ends June 9th – more info here and here) and I should be writing a short story for the Thursday Doors May Challenge (here) – but last week, I became pleasantly sidetracked with Emily Dickinson poetry. And then – yes! – I finally finished watching A Quiet Passion (2016-2017), the film by Terence Davies about the life of Emily Dickinson.
Back in May 2019, I posted a lot about Emily Dickinson (as I promoted a book) and with that in mind, I decided that May 2022 needed a little bit of Dickinson. So here is my review of the movie and some thoughts about this wonderful poet.
- I give the movie, A Quiet Passion, a “D” for the screenplay and scene progression, a “B+” for the acting, and an “F” for Emily depiction – because I think that Davies, the writer/director, inaccurately depicted the Emily Dickinson we get to know from her 1,775 poems. Instead, Davies provided a limited (biased) view and showed us an Emily with symptoms of a mood disorder, someone who was miserable and the Dickinson family seemed to be an early version of the Adams Family.
- If you want to read an excellent review about A Quiet Passion – go here – to see Erin Blackwell’s (Bay Area reporter) take on this disappointing movie. I am glad I did not read her review first or I might NOT have watched the film at all. Oh, and I agree with Blackwell as she noted how the scenes moved so slow it forced us to scrutinize the actor’s teeth and nitpick other details.
- The writer of A Quiet Passion, Terence Davies, seems to have forgotten that Emily, a huge nature lover, wrote outdoors very often and had many sublime moments in her yard. Many of her poems were inspired from nature and this American poet had delight in her steps on MANY days. She had joy! But this was missed completely.
- Instead of showing Emily outside, and getting lost in nature, or reading under a blue sky on various parts of the homestead, where so many poems likely were birthed and developed, the film had Emily indoors the entire time.
- The film also had Emily far too pathological. Far too angry. I doubt Emily Dickinson was bickering and raising her voice as much as Cynthia’s Nixon’s character was forced to do. The intensity of the mild shouting was heavy. The dark arguing scenes were too much and felt off.
- Emily Dickinson was depicted in A Quiet Passion as a melancholic, moody and sometimes mildly manic, quarrelsome, depressed, and as a loco woman. Indeed, she likely had a few meltdowns (grin with that because that can be quite normal – to have a meltdown now and again – especially for the artistic types). And sure, she pulled back from societal roles – and living in that mid-to-late 1800s era – many of us might have done the same darn thing – with the social funk, head games, and oppression on women and minorities. Many folks even pull back now – but we just don’t know it because they are NOT on social media (ha). Or they pull back as natural “home bodies” with much contentment! And here is the thing – it was later in her life when Emily stayed inside more and more, which might have been connected to her kidney problems/health issues. And even with staying inside – it doesn’t mean she was so angry and “biting” all the time. Rather, the simple life SHE CHOSE to lead was one of quietude! It was related to celebrating introversion, which doesn’t mean cray-cray.
- Emily’s contented life, even if not perfect and not all bliss, was about embracing each day with an intentionally quiet life and not forcing oneself into any prescribed social role. Emily chose to assume the role of a poet. Stubborn but focused. Perhaps we would say she never got caught up in the rat race of that culture.
- Emily also often baked and for anyone who has explored time in the kitchen – they would know that Davies missed out on creating some joyful scenes in Emily’s life that maybe connected with baking flops, some successes, experimenting and tasting flavors, and then gifting various items (because Emily also gave a lot of food away), reminding us that introverts are not anti-social – they have a different way of connecting. Emily socially connected in her own ways.
- Also, Emily Dickinson did greet guests from the upstairs without coming down -which I take as refusing to put on her social hat – or might have stayed on the perimeter of a social gathering (sigh – have you ever felt the need to do that too? And for a funeral – well some folks just don’t “do funerals”) – but to have the movie keep Emily indoors the ENTIRE TIME WAS A MISTAKE. The script did include Emily “mentioning” that she only stayed on the family homestead – but they never brought her outside in the film.
Emily enjoyed the family’s large homestead and was outside often. She wrote about the joy of birds, had a favorite tree, etc – but all of this was left out.
- For the movie to have such a depressed depiction of Emily Dickinson gave an incomplete picture and you wondered if Davies was mistakenly thinking of the lightly tormented Sylvia Plath. It was as if this screenwriter only used 40 of Emily’s 1,775 poems to anchor the script. Emily was NOT agoraphobic and she delighted in her yard. Also, she likely smiled and laughed a lot; however, she was depicted as an angry, manic, weird, and as an embittered woman. She might have had some embitterment settle in as the years passed, but she still had this ongoing peace that was brilliantly revealed in all of her poetry. The words she penned revealed her peacefulness, wisdom, acceptance, insight, faith and questions about faith, and it revealed her healthy cognitive churning about societal and humanity issues.
- If you want to know Emily, just dig through her many poems. For example – here is one she wrote about a bird: Poem #880
The Bird must sing to earn the Crumb
What merit have the Tune
No Breakfast if it guaranty
The Rose content may bloom
To gain renown of Lady’s Drawer
But if the Lady come
But once a Century, the Rose
- The poetry read aloud in the movie was brilliantly added. That was a highlight.
The poetry was read during certain scenes and Cynthia Nixon’s talent was obvious. The way the poems were read aloud helped us to feel some of the ideas and emotions that Emily poured into her work. For example, in the film, Dickinson verbally recited “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” to her newborn nephew, Ned. However, This reading did not feel realistic. Also, that is where some of the creepiness of this movie also reared its head. As the family looked on during this oration, their over-the-top creepy smiles and watery eyes were too much for the scene. Also, it was not realistic because rarely does one recite a poem like that – while holding an infant for the first time – and rarely would such prose be quickly understood and received with such amazement – esp. from family members.
- My son watched part of A Quiet Passion with me (it took me three sittings to get through this two hour+ movie). We had a chance to briefly talk about Wadsworth (a bonus to have chat time with son). In Denver, Colorado – Wadsworth Boulevard was right near our first home and so we talked about that and then had a slight chat about the Wadsworth that Emily admired.
- I feel Davies also got the Wadsworth area wrong in the film. Instead of showing Emily’s healthy admiration for Wadsworth – they made it creepy where she awkwardly handed him a poem. Even if that was accurate, and I doubt it was, they missed the friendship that was reciprocated.
- Instead of showing the way these two, Wadsworth and Dickinson, had a little flirting – with a very deep soul connection – intellectual sharing – and real friendship – Davies gave us scenes that made Emily seem like a predator and even a bit creepy. He missed harvesting data from their exchange of letters.
- Even though the poetry that was read in the movie was well done (artsy and understandable) and the costumes were pretty good, the movie FAILED to show us how this woman was fueled (and soothed) by her writing. The movie showed her as moody, insecure, and a little loco.
- The movie also left out the part where the family found all of Emily’s poems after she died – they were tucked away in a dresser. To leave that discovery out was to miss ANOTHER important detail.
- The author missed the essence of Emily Dickinson. His view of her seemed to be based on only a few of her poems. They could have had Emily’s older sister (played by the awesome Jennifer Ehle, Pride and Prejudice, 1995) find the poems and celebrate the discovery.
- Emily Dickinson used her poetry to pull back to ponder life, which helped her passionately live in her own Thoreau-like contented way (I almost wrote Thorogood-like there – hahah – you know, George Thorogood, the rock-star musician… “who drinks alone”….?) Anyhow, Emily’s life path was quite similar to Henry David Thoreau’s contented alternative path: they both found peace and ecstasy in nature and in writing. They both often connected with God in special ways that HAD to go beyond church walls as they pulled away from religiosity.
- So…. sadly, the script for the movie A Quiet Passion was very lacking.
- The misses in A Quiet Passion reminded me of the misses in the the Dickensian series (here). The writers of Dickensian depicted Dickens as much too crabby and dark; the writers of that series forgot to show the JOY that Charles Dickens had in his own life and then gave some characters. For example, the nephew in A Christmas Carol was left out of the series – – this nephew was a jovial, wise, and kind character and was overlooked. The nephew was a man who kept on loving his Uncle Scrooge as he had a bit of a kinsman redeemer role. That was left out!! The writers also missed the personal joy that Dickens likely felt in some life areas – and he is depicted as annoyed all the time. Oh, and I like how one critic said that “Dickensian” was a “Jumble”- this jumble was like “EastEnders meets A Christmas Carol meets Great Expectations meets Oliver Twist meets Bleak House meets Our Mutual Friend.” –
- And hey, maybe when I am done reading Bleak House – I can check out Dickensian again and see the hints of that Bleak House connection.
- Dickensian – was not “all” bad – and a huge takeaway from Dickensian was the high quality filming and cameras used- but the script was limited, just like the anemic script in A Quiet passion They both failed to accurately portray the balanced depths of these talented authors.
Back in May 2019 – I promoted the book Lady by the River by sharing about Emily Dickinson for ten days (master post is HERE). It was fun and I think a good way to promote a book is to combine it with short posts about a classic author.
So today, rather than share about Lady by the River, I will mention my book Avian Friends – because Emily enjoyed the birds, wrote about them numerous times, and wrote so much in her yard. This book is about enjoying birds and many pages unfolded in my yard
If you like birds and want a “light” read, you might want to add Avian Friends to your reading list. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. I also plan on giving away a free copy when we do the Bleak House raffle in June.
also, the Sunday Stills challenge this week is #Feathered friends so linking up with that 🪶
- Have you seen A Quiet Passion? Did you like it?
- Have you seen Dickensian? Any thoughts on that?
- Have any other comments to share?