The British team behind “A Quiet Passion,” the story of one of America’s most beloved literary icons, Emily Dickinson, exhibited nothing but passion for their story of a wonderfully talented yet introverted poetic genius who never enjoyed recognition in her lifetime.
Discussing the film at a press conference ahead of its premiere in the Berlin Film Festival’s Berlinale Special showcase on Sunday, director Terence Davies, a veritable expert on Dickinson, said he had envisioned actress Cynthia Nixon in the role of Dickinson since the start.
Herself a lifelong fan of the poet, Nixon said she grew up watching Julie Harris in William Luce’s “The Belle of Amherst” and always heard Harris’ voice as Dickinson. “Julie Harris’ voice was in my head. I felt so much kinship to her. I had grown up watching her. But I was not intimidated.”
Nixon added that the one-woman play in which Harris famously starred is very different from “A Quiet Passion,” which looks at an earlier part of Dickinson’s life.
Davies said he first discovered the Dickinson when he was 18 and was fascinated not only by her poetry but also the fact that she had never received any recognition for her work during her lifetime.
Discussing Dickinson’s unusual life and isolation from society, Nixon observed, “Everybody thought she was so secluded, but she was all about communion with other people, through letters. She so longed for communion with people who were not there. I could imagine her today emailing and tweeting all day long, and then unplug. I hope it’s not perverse to say that.”
Jennifer Ehle, who plays Dickinson’s sister Lavinia, added that Dickinson “found freedom in her seclusion.”
For a film that explores the life and work of an American literary icon, it’s curiously telling that its producers had such a tough time interesting U.S. producers in the material.
“It’s extraordinary that no one else has made a film about her life,” said producer Sol Papadopoulos, who added that the film first secured financing out of the U.K. and Belgium and eventually the U.S. “The U.S. money was last and the most difficult.”
Nevertheless, Papadopoulos said the film was a joy to make. “Making films is usually like herding snakes in to paper bags in a wind storm — but not this one.”
Papadopoulos and Roy Boulter’s Liverpool-based Hurricane Films is also developing a documentary on Dickinson, parts of which will likely appear in the “Quiet Passion” DVD.