Emily Dickinson Meets Billie Eilish in 2019’s Dickinson Adaptation

“This is such bullshit” is not exactly something one would expect to hear Emily Dickinson say. But Apple TV+’s Dickinson is not your typical 19th-century poet. Creator, Alena Smith took what was already known about Dickinson, as well as her poems, and added modern twists. Wiz Khalifa plays Death and Billie Eilish’s “bury a friend” is played in the first episode. Smith told The Hollywood Reporter that, "We approached this with a tremendous amount of research, but then we used the research in really unexpected ways and we are always trying to use the facts of Emily Dickinson's life and her cultural context of the 1850s to reflect where we are today." The show premiered at Tribeca TV Festival on September 14 ahead of its November 1 release, and I was lucky to be one of the first to see it. 

The music in the show is unlike that of any other period piece and was described as a “Direct route to Emily’s mind- my hope is that the music lets you feel everything that Emily has trapped inside that wishes it could burst out” by Hailee Steinfeld, who portrays the poet herself. Steinfeld even wrote a song for the show- “Afterlife-” which was announced at the festival and released on the 19th. She explained that she has a more fearless way of songwriting after embodying the character. 

Not only is the music is current- the pressure that Emily is under is still very relevant to today; “We can only hope that people see this and feel seen and understood and heard because that’s exactly what Emily Dickinson was searching for her whole life,” said Steinfeld, “The pressure [she] was under to feel or act or do certain things, I think women still feel that way.” She saw similarities between Dickinson’s life and those of young women today; “I forget that it’s a period piece at some times because of how relevant it is.” Emily Dickinson was a feminist of her time, and this show has only magnified that. Jane Krakowski, who plays Emily’s mother, stated: “It’s wonderful to introduce a new generation of young, strong, feisty women who want to make a mark on the world to know about Emily Dickinson.” Krakowski gushed “I loved the idea of modern music and modern storytelling juxtaposed with this 1850’s setting,” which is exactly what I was thinking- if this show had a 2019 wardrobe and setting, it would seem like a normal TV show (that is, no Downton Abbey-level elaborate language or mannerisms). 

Photo credit: Apple TV+

Even though it deals with serious issues, the show does have plenty of comedic moments that had the whole audience laughing. The family is very quirky, Emily herself is extremely sarcastic, and the dynamic between her and her mother is often entertaining. 

As for the later episodes, it was revealed that philosopher Henry David Thoreau will be played by John Mulaney, whose mother comes to his cabin and does his laundry, and Zosia Mamet will be brought in as author Louisa May Alcott. I loved it, the audience loved it, and I assure you that you will too. “Dickinson” is unlike any other period TV show and is more modern than you can believe. Watch it when it releases on Apple TV+ on November 1- you won’t regret it. 

 

Photo: my iPhone

Photo credit: Sunshine Sachs