History has already told us that poet Emily Dickinson had a lonely, isolated life. Writer-director Terence Davies has made a film that also shows us she may’ve been completely miserable.
Cynthia Nixon is heartbreaking as Dickinson, one of the world’s most infamous poets, a title she didn’t get to enjoy during her life. Her poems were rarely published while she was alive, were often heavily edited, and were even published anonymously. It wasn’t until after her death, a death graphically and mercilessly depicted in this movie, that Dickinson got noticed.
The film starts with Dickinson young (played by Emma Bell, who was badass in the wolf horror movie, Frozen). Misunderstood at a private school, her father (an excellent Keith Carradine) brings her home, where she will spend most her remaining days, writing her poetry in the dark, early morning hours, and rarely leaving the house.
Davies conveys the contradictions of the times. While Emily’s dad encourages her daughter’s writing and denounces slavery, he grumbles when a woman dares to take a stage to sing. Nixon lives up to the title of the movie, delivering searing passion in a film that is mostly quiet, although there are moments when Dickinson lets loose, and Nixon imbibes those with fury. When Dickinson falls ill, Nixon gives the depiction of her declining health a tremendous, tragic energy.
The movie is not fun, and Dickinson’s life is depicted as somewhat of a nightmare, a nightmare that inspired some incredible lines of poetry.