Hailed by many as Britain’s greatest - and certainly most distinctive - living filmmaker, Terence Davies achieved acclaim with his 1983 trilogy about childhood and Catholicism in 1950s Liverpool, followed by two masterpieces: Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992). But his career since then has had more fallow periods than frequency. Even when he has completed a film, he has often had to fight to keep his vision intact.
A Quiet Passion, his most personal film in 25 years, is a lovely, lyrical portrait of the 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86) who never married, hardly left her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, and rarely reached a readership beyond the local newspaper in her lifetime.
“For 10 years, no one would give me work, so I did feel for Emily,” Davies said after completing the film, in which Cynthia Nixon plays Emily. “She only got 11 of her poems printed while she was alive out of 1,808 - and even then, they altered her punctuation! So I do feel an affinity with her.
“Because she didn’t go anywhere,” he adds, ”it does not mean that her interior life wasn’t very rich. She went a great deal further than most people. I think she is the greatest of all 19th-century American poets; I certainly think she is greater than Longfellow or Whitman.”