Does ‘Dickinson’s Modern-Day and Period Piece Mashup Work?
[Warning: The below contains some spoilers for Season 1 of Dickinson.]
You may be familiar with the words and musings of poet Emily Dickinson, but Apple TV+ takes her origin story and presents it with a few modern twists.
Inspired by her poetry as well as the history known about the writer from Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson sees characters placed in a mid-19th-century setting but they speak with a modern-day vernacular. The themes and topics addressed also echo the issues being discussed in society today, which makes us ask the question — does the show’s use of modernity work in a project rooted in a real-life historical figure?
It won’t work for everyone, especially when the show turns whimsical and imaginative, such as sequences where Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) meets death and is carted around by a ghoulish set of horses. But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief a bit, you’re in for quite the treat.
The premiere episode, “Because I could not stop,” definitely sets the tone, highlighting the gender inequality within the Dickinson family. The curious Emily just wishes to write and learn, but instead is forced to meet suitors and fulfill household duties.
“Why doesn’t Austin do it?” Emily questions sister Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) about brother Austin’s (Adrian Blake Enscoe) lack of chores, such as their task of collecting water at 4:00 in the morning. “Austin is a boy,” Lavinia answers simply. Emily’s response, “this is such bulls**t,” lets us know this isn’t just any biopic.
Then there’s the use of actress Jane Krakowski, best known for her work in comedies like 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She’s undeniably funny as Emily’s traditional mother, but there’s something about her casting that takes the show out of the period. Still, it works.
There’s also the show’s use of music — top hits from artists such as Billie Eilish. Plus, we see wild parties where opium is used similar to the recreational drugs consumed in parties in today’s current shows like Euphoria. There’s debauchery and sexual exploration that, although we know may not be factual, it makes you wonder what really went on in Dickinson’s time that wasn’t included in history books.
And while the surreal elements of the show, such as the inclusion of death as a human figure (played by rapper Wiz Khalifa), may be the show’s oddest selling-point, Emily’s exchanges with this figure remind you of the literary icon’s real-life genius. No matter the alterations made to Dickinson’s story in this series, it brings her poetry to a whole new audience and isn’t that what truly matters?
Let us know what you think of the new series in the comments below!
Dickinson, Season 1, Streaming now, Apple TV+