The film follows young Emily Dickinson (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, Edward, played by Keith Carradine.
In early scenes, Emily's reluctance to slavishly follow teachings - her soul is her own, not God's - prickle her educators.
She returns home less than a year into her studies and repeatedly clashes with her father, a prominent politician, who stridently imposes his will on his children.
Her father does agree, however, that Emily can write verse behind closed doors in the dead of night and she is published anonymously in the Springfield Republican.
Thereafter, she settles into an almost hermetic existence.
While her brother Austin (Duncan Duff) embarks on an adulterous affair with Mabel Todd (Noemie Schellens), Emily remains alone and aloof, untouched by Cupid's arrow.
A Quiet Passion is a dense and exceedingly wordy tribute to a trailblazer at odds with the prevailing moods of the era.