Based on the private correspondence of Emily Dickinson, Madeleine Olnek’s 2018 biopic isn’t your average period drama. It paints a warm and tongue-in-cheek portrait of the literary icon who attempts to be published and who wasn’t the reclusive spinster the history books made her out to be. Its more whimsical and comedic tone makes it an ideal tandem partner with Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion, which explored the accepted story of the American poet.
Olnek’s previous feature films – Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same and The Foxy Merkins – found a following on the queer film festival circuit. Wild Nights With Emily sees the filmmaker reclaim the history of Dickinson and deliver her most mainstream film to date, a sunny and touching queer romance that shines a light on how Dickinson wrote for the only woman she felt understood her. Olnek deftly showcases the poet’s writing through voiceover or textual flourishes, while leaning into an anachronistic tone that recalls episodes of Drunk History. The film’s satirical commentary on how history is malleably recorded works wonders, as well as the way it slyly addresses how cultural figures are so often celebrated under a tragic light to better serve our need to satisfy the doomed-poet archetype. Molly Shannon shines as Emily Dickinson, playing her as an ebullient and kind-hearted woman; her lively and layered performance perfectly complements the tone of this quietly daring movie.
The film wasn’t widely released in cinemas but made the rounds on the queer festival scene, premiering in Germany late 2018 at Filmfest Homochrom. Film distributors Salzgeber, who traditionally focus on German and international queer and documentary cinema, recently released the title on Vimeo on Demand last week – don’t miss out on our special newsletter offer to watch this under-the-radar gem.