Apple TV+ ‘Dickinson’ Review

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Apple TV+ presents to you their take on the famous American poet: Emily Dickinson. The first season was released on Nov. 1, and star actress Hailee Steinfield plays Emily Dickinson, who uses her perspective as a poet to explore the world she was born into. The show consists of ten episodes, each episode just under 40 minutes of content. This series is one of the first shows airing on Apple TV’s new streaming platform, Apple TV+.

 

The show has a unique style that seamlessly mixes elements of pop culture, like pop music or slang, into the late 1800’s and includes Emily Dickinson’s dreams as a fantasy world, including Death, who’s played by Wiz Khalifa. It’s a delightful change from more traditional historical series. Death’s character was the most interesting, with a laid back attitude and moments of angst, representing everything in Dickinson’s own poems. 

 

The graphics in the show are beautifully made, very similar to the most recent version of the Great Gatsby. Each episode opens with a graphic created specifically for the episode’s plot, and centered around  famous poems from Dickinson. The show itself opens with the Dickenson’s famous poem, 479: “Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me.” Throughout the show, her poems appear on screen in brilliant gold, and bring a whole new tone. 

The cinematography of the show is beautiful. The period lighting and colors used make for a wonderful theme and introduced new emotions really well.  The evening scenes were done really well. A lot of period pieces don’t do well with lighting and are commonly criticized by viewers for the barely visible scenes. This show doesn’t fall into that same category. The warm tones, especially the ones surrounding Death as a character, help  paint the world the way Emily Dickinson saw it, full of the same intensity she must have felt when writing her poetry. 

 

The modern songs in the background of the show make her life  more familiar to the viewers. Billie Eilish’s ‘Bury a Friend’ comically plays in the background during a funeral scene, and ‘All Good Girls Go To Hell’ by the same artist comes back for a different funeral scene. Like a lot of other elements in the show, the music is also modern and made of famous pop songs. 

 

It’s hard to tell when the modernization ends and where the historical accuracy beings because Dickinson was someone ahead of her time. A lot of her indignations of being treated differently could be just who she was but could also be a part of the modernization, and we as an audience will never know. It just shows Dickinson as the idealist she could be. 

 

A lot of the details about the Dickinson family check out — Emily Dickinson did have a flirtation with her brother’s wife, and she did have a father that ran for Congress. It surprised me that these weren’t plot points made up to keep the story going; they were all taken from life and built upon to make an interesting story. 

 

The show also does a good job balancing the morbidness of Dickinson’s thought and poetry with comedy — but sometimes the show is too comedic. ‘Death,’ the character, is meant to be a large part of Dickinson’s life, but actual deaths are brushed away in less than an episode. While the comedic element of the writing helps keep younger audiences interested, the show doesn’t always seem to know when to stop. 

 

While the first two episodes seem a little stiff in terms of acting and dialogue, some lines later on in the story were well written and incredibly heartbreaking. We see Emily Dickinson meet Henry Thoreau, and we see the disappointment on her face when she realizes that his wife and sister took care of his every need. She looks at him in the eyes and tells him to, “try writing something and not showing it to anyone. Then you’ll know what real loneliness feels like.” When her brother bans her from going to her best friend’s wedding out of jealousy, she says, “Just because you’re a man doesn’t mean you have to become a monster.” Hailee Steinfield does a brilliant job as the show goes on, convincing her audience of Dickinson’s explosive personality. The season ends in ten episodes, and it’s hard to tell if there will be a second one. 

 

The show makes the story understandable to a wider audience by mixing it with slang and pop and takes away the heaviness that follows an actual period piece. In a way, it’s easier to watch. But it keeps the emotional aspect of the life of Emile Dickinson, a tragedy all the while painting her as a misfit and a rebel. It shows the timelessness of her poetry, which seems to parallel the odd mix of eras in the show. In the words of Dickinson, the show does ‘tell the truth, but tell it slant’.