Certificate: 12A

Running time: 125 mins

Star rating: 4/5

BORN and raised in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she spent most of her adulthood and died at the age of 55 in 1886, poet Emily Dickinson evaded fame in her reclusive lifetime. A heavily edited first collection of her poetry emerged four years after her death and it was a further 65 years before her complete works were published, solidifying her status as one of the most important American writers of the 19th Century.

Liverpudlian writer-director Terence Davies clearly feels a deep affinity with Dickinson and his labour of love, A Quiet Passion, paints a richly detailed portrait of a misunderstood woman. His script appropriates some of Emily's own words, but is a subjective fictional account that captures both his subject's solemnity and her caustic wit.

The film follows young Emily (Emma Bell) from her time at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary to her later years (now played by Cynthia Nixon), when she writes her poetry late at night with the blessing of her pious father, a prominent politician, Edward (Keith Carradine). Supported by her doting sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle) and frequently visited by their friend Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey), Emily settles into an almost hermetic existence at the family home, where she observes the minutiae of society life.

A Quiet Passion is a dense and exceedingly wordy tribute to a trailblazer at odds with the prevailing moods of the era. Nixon's mannered, yet emotionally layered performance is among her best work, embracing all of her subject's foibles and flaws as she pours herself onto the page. Ehle brings warmth and boundless optimism to her sibling, who appreciates the goodness and compassion in Emily even when the writer cannot see it herself.