As a long time admirer of Emily Dickinson, I wanted so badly to enjoy this film. Sadly, I just didn’t. To be honest the film felt stilted, it was like viewing the final project of a student filmmaker, rather than the sophisticated Emily Dickinson biopic I had paid to see.
The film opens with a glimpse Emily Dickinson’s days at Mount Holyoke, as viewers are introduced to a young Emily (Emma Bell.) These opening moments show Emily renouncing the constraints of her strictly pious educators, and detailing her own intricate opinions of God-something that will become a theme throughout the remainder of the film. Perhaps this is the film’s first fault, as this introduction is considerably lengthy, and the moments showcasing Emily’s return to Amherst drag on too long, before the older Emily (Cynthia Nixon) is finally introduced. It is perhaps these early moments that are most responsible for contributing to the overall lack luster nature of the film, as Emma Bell’s performance does leave something to be desired. This script and its’ delivery felt almost like watching a community theatre performance with a slightly larger than normal budget.
Not to be dismissed, however, is the film’s striking aesthetic. The film show cases a series of truly beautiful, delicately captured moments. Sunlight streaming onto Emily’s desk as she writes, dainty shots of Amherst, and pastoral images of Massachusetts render a dazzling portrait of Emily’s physical world. Small, seemingly insignificant details are filmed and utilized in such a way that they effectively capture the quiet beauty of Emily Dickinson, both her inner and outside worlds.
Also, not to be overlooked is Cynthia Nixon’s performance. Nixon is perhaps responsible for deftly rescuing the film’s second half. She eases into the role and delivers Emily’s noted “quiet passion” and then some. Her portrayal of the poet is honest, heart rending and masterful. She is able to artfully display Emily’s innocence, her deeply meaningful relationships with the members of her immediate family, and then her increasing bitterness after her singular love interest turns out to be the already married Reverend Wadsworth. Lastly, she does a masterful job of portraying Dickinson’s painful and untimely death. She perfectly encapsulates the sorrow, the loneliness, and the hardships that plagued Emily during her lifetime, as well as the cruelty of the disease that killed her.
However, despite Nixon’s expert performance and the pleasing aesthetic of the film, I would say that it was largely still not enjoyable. Not all performances matched that of Cynthia Nixon-in fact, most didn’t. There were moments in which the film seemed to drag on and on. Unfortunately, the film’s pleasant moments did not outweigh its’ unpleasant moments, and at best I can conclude by saying it left me feeling conflicted.