Cynthia Nixon and Jodhi May in A Quiet Passion.

It’s well-known that poet Emily Dickinson had a lonely, isolated life. Now, writer-director Terence Davies has made A Quiet Passion, a film that also shows us she may have been completely miserable.

Cynthia Nixon is heartbreaking as Dickinson. Her poems were rarely published while she was alive; when they were, they were often heavily edited, and even published anonymously. It wasn’t until after her death—graphically and mercilessly depicted in this movie—that Dickinson got noticed.

The film starts with a younger Dickinson (played by Emma Bell, who was badass in the wolf-horror movie Frozen). Misunderstood at a private school, her father (an excellent Keith Carradine) brings her home, where she will spend most of her remaining days; she writes her poetry in the early morning hours, and rarely leaves the house.

Davies conveys the contradictions of the times. While Emily’s dad encourages her daughter’s writing and denounces slavery, he grumbles when a woman takes the stage to sing.

Nixon lives up to the title of the movie, delivering searing passion in a film that is mostly quiet—though there are moments when Dickinson lets loose, and Nixon imbibes those with fury. When Dickinson falls ill, Nixon gives the depiction of her declining health a tremendous, tragic energy.

This well-done movie is not fun; Dickinson’s life is depicted as somewhat of a nightmare—a nightmare that inspired some incredible poetry.

A Quiet Passion opens Friday, May 12, at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565) and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).