Few contemporary male filmmakers are more reliably great at creating complex female protagonists than Terence Davies, so it’s no shock that he nails his dramatization of the life of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon). Davies bypasses a cradle-to-grave profile in favor of a more impressionistic look at the poet and the 19th-century society that kept her even more penned in than her self-imposed isolation in her Amherst home. The dialogue often sparkles with sharp wit—most notably when Emily is chatting with her scandalously independent-minded friend Vryling (Catherine Bailey)—and Davies employs some beautiful filmmaking to convey the passage of time, whether it’s the movement of light across a room or the morphing of younger versions of characters into their older selves during a photo sitting. But at the center there’s Nixon’s striking performance as Emily, who dares to express contrarian thinking about God, the role of women and even her own ambition. Davies guides her to a depiction of the accumulating frustrations of existing in a man’s world, making it easy to wonder about how many other women’s beautiful words were never found.
Director: Terence Davies
Producer: Roy Boulter and Solon Papadopoulos
Cast: Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Catherine Bailey, Jodhi May, Emma Bell, Duncan Duff, Joanna Bacon, Eric Loren, Annette Badland, Noémie Schellens, Benjamin Wainwright, Rose Williams, Stefan Menaul and Simone Milsdochter