A Quiet Passion

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A Quiet Passion
UK theatrical release poster
Directed byTerence Davies
Written byTerence Davies
Produced by
CinematographyFlorian Hoffmeister
Edited byPia Di Ciaula
  • Hurricane Films
  • Gibson & MacLeod Indomitable Entertainment
  • WeatherVane Productions
  • Potemkino
Distributed bySoda Pictures
Release dates
  • 14 February 2016 (2016-02-14) (Berlin)
  • 7 April 2017 (2017-04-07) (United Kingdom)
Running time
125 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$7.3 million[1]
Box office$4.1 million[2][3]

A Quiet Passion is a 2016 British biographical film written and directed by Terence Davies about the life of American poet Emily Dickinson. The film stars Cynthia Nixon as the reclusive poet. It co-stars Emma Bell as young Dickinson, Jennifer Ehle, Duncan Duff, and Keith Carradine. The film premiered at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2016 and was released in the United Kingdom on 7 April 2017. It won the Grand Prix at Film Fest Gent in 2016.


The film follows American poet Emily Dickinson from her early years as a student to her later years.

Emily’s upbringing in Massachusetts’ Puritan/Congregational world is evident from the start, when she stands up to a Mount Holyoake Female Seminary school mistress (Miss Mary Lyon). Her family (Father, brother Austin, sister Vinnie) take her home to Amherst.

Subsequently, while she is enraptured at the opera, her father and aunt express displeasure at a woman singing anything other than hymns – a pious Aunt Elizabeth comes to regard Emily as insolent.

Emily convinces her father to ask his friend Dr Holland, editor of the Springfield Republican, to publish her poems. The editor deigns to publish one, noting that the rest are childish and that women cannot add much to literature.

Many years pass and we see the Dickinson family as older adults. Family friend Vryling Buffam strikes up a friendship with a retiring Emily, who admires Vryling’s acerbic commentary. Emily begins to assert her independence by not attending church, angering Father. Austin brings home his new bride, Susan, and the Dickinson sisters welcome her warmly, as does an evidently unwell Mrs Dickinson who makes a rare appearance downstairs. (Susan will later confide in Emily that she had strong reservations about marriage, not feeling the usual attraction.)

When the Civil War starts, Father decides that he will pay for Austin to avoid the draft, Austin’s heartfelt views on honor and conscience notwithstanding. There is a montage of civil war battles. Austin is offended by Emily’s observation that gender issues ought to be considered in a similar light to slavery.

Emily experiences a series of losses, which drive her reclusive nature. She develops an attachment to a married pastor, and is visibly angry on hearing he is moving away. Vryling is to marry; Emily refuses to attend and bids her “goodbye”. Emily views marriage as cutting ties with family to live with strangers. Father dies – we see Emily grieving her father from an upstairs window refusing to join the funeral procession.

Emily, now confided to her room, will not come downstairs. She upbraids the visiting newspaper editor for altering the punctuation of her poems, objecting to Dr Holland’s changes as “obviousness”. She refuses to come down meet a potential suitor who admires her poetry – fearing he is too beautiful. Later she prays for a suitor and has a mystical vision. Emily explains to Vinnie that for her love is permanent, unlike a man who loves and then cools.

Diagnosed with “Bright’s Disease”, a kidney ailment, her health deteriorates with back pain and grand mal seizures. Mother, long suffering from melancholy, has a stroke and passes. Subsequently, Emily discovers that Austin is having an affair with a singer (Mrs Todd). Emily, with sympathy for Susan, confronts her brother’s hypocrisy. With the strains growing, Vinnie points out to Emily her own intolerance of the failings of others.

Emily’s condition deteriorates. She dies with Austin and Vinnie visibly distraught by her side.



On 10 September 2012, it was announced that Cynthia Nixon was set to play Emily Dickinson in a biopic directed by Terence Davies.[4] In May 2015, after a long time in development hell, A Quiet Passion finally began production in Belgium.[5] The film was shot at AED Studios in a replica of Dickinson's house.[6] Additional scenes were also filmed in Amherst and Pelham, Massachusetts.[7] Jennifer Ehle was cast in a key supporting role opposite Nixon.[8][9]


On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 91%, based on 152 reviews, and an average rating of 7.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A Quiet Passion offers a finely detailed portrait of a life whose placid passage may not have been inherently cinematic, but is made more affecting by Cynthia Nixon's strong performance."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 78 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11]

The film was highly praised by the British newspapers The Guardian and The Independent, which described the film as a 'Masterpiece of Mood'. Richard Brody of The New Yorker called it a "masterwork" and stated that the film would "take its place as one of [Davies'] finest creations".[12] Had the film been given a limited release in the United States before 2017, Brody would have placed it first in his list of best films of 2016.[13] Internationally, The New York Times stated: "This Emily Dickinson biopic possesses a poetic sensibility perfectly suited to its subject and a deep, idiosyncratic intuition about what might have made her tick." The Washington Post wrote: "Davies is a master of the slow build, lyrically evoking both the dreaminess and gravity of his subject and her verse".


  1. ^ Campbell, Christopher (11 December 2017). "The Disaster Artist' and 'I, Tonya' make their mark in an otherwise poor year for biographical movies". Film School Rejects. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  2. ^ "A Quiet Passion (2016)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  3. ^ "A Quiet Passion (2016)". The Numbers. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  4. ^ Scott Roxborough (10 September 2012). "Toronto 2012: Cynthia Nixon to Play Poet Emily Dickinson (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  5. ^ Ryan Lattanzio (5 May 2015). "Terence Davies' Long-Awaited Emily Dickinson Biopic Is Re - Thompson on Hollywood". Thompson on Hollywood. Archived from the original on 8 July 2015. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  6. ^ Lederman, Diane (12 June 2015). "Filming of Emily Dickinson story 'The Quiet Passion' brings attention to poet, Amherst". MassLive.com. Advance Publications. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  7. ^ Merzbach, Scott (10 June 2015). "Filming planned in Amherst, Pelham for Emily Dickinson biopic 'A Quiet Passion' starring Cynthia Nixon, Keith Carradine". Daily Hampshire Gazette. Newspapers of New England. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  8. ^ Dave McNary (5 May 2015). "'A Quiet Passion': Jennifer Ehle Joins Emily Dickinson Biopic - Variety". Variety. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  9. ^ Ben Beaumont-Thomas (6 May 2015). "Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle set for Terence Davies' Emily Dickinson biopic". the Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  10. ^ "A Quiet Passion (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  11. ^ "A Quiet Passion Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  12. ^ "A Masterly Emily Dickinson Movie". The New Yorker. 22 February 2016. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  13. ^ Brody, Richard (9 December 2016). "The Best Movies of 2016". The New Yorker. Condé Nast. Retrieved 22 December 2016.

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