Films and documentaries on Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated American poets of the 19th century. Her numerous works—close to 1800 poems!—continue to impress contemporary readers by their freshness, unconventionality and captivating symbolism. Dickinson’s personal life was just as intriguing: she spent a good part of it in self-imposed isolation, raising many speculations regarding possible reasons for her withdrawal from the world.

This post is written primarily for those not entirely familiar with Emily Dickinson, offering a short (and partially retro) selection of must-see documentaries and feature films on this fascinating woman. Hopefully it will encourage you to explore the world of her poetry, or help you understand it better.

The World of Emily Dickinson

Broadcast live on the ABC network in 1957, this episode of the Johns Hopkins Files features professor Charles R. Anderson who guides the viewers through Dickinson’s life and poetry. If you’re into classic TV, you’ll love this.

The Belle of Amherst

This is a taped broadcast of the 1976 performance of a monodrama written by William Luce based on Dickinson’s poems, starring the inimitable Julie Harris. The play ran on Broadway in the late 1970s, and brought Harris a Tony award in 1977.

Emily Dickinson: A Certain Slant of Light

My personal favourite documentary on Dickinson also happens to feature Julie Harris. In this 1977 film, Harris walks us through places that would have been very familiar to Emily, narrating her life and poetry.

A Quiet Passion

This feature film is a more recent production: released in 2016, and directed by the British director Terence Davies, it’s a wonderfully moody look at Dickinson, capturing the key moments of her life, including the mental disorder she was apparently struggling with.

Those who know Cynthia Nixon only as Miranda from the Sex in the City series will delight in how good she is in this, more serious, dramatic role. To see the trailer, click here.

Wild Nights with Emily

As the title suggests, this 2018 indie period drama offers a look at Emily’s life very different from the typical portrayals of Emily as a troubled, reclusive spinster. The woman we encounter here is vivacious, passionate and rebellious, played by Molly Shannon.

The film focuses on long neglected and suppressed indications of Dickinson’s involvement in romantic relationships with other women. If for no other reason, I recommend this film as a rare look into a different kind of Emily Dickinson, one that defies the usual narratives of what she was like as a person. You can find the trailer here.

If you have another feature film or documentary on Emily Dickinson to recommend, please do share about it in the comments section below!


Emily Dickinson board on the Grammaticus Pinterest profile

On long walk, birds, and poems (featuring Emily Dickinson)

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