Apple TV’s ‘Dickinson’ beautifully presents a queer love story

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Dickinson / Apple TV+ / imdb.com / Fair Use

The TV series “Dickinson” plays with the concept of a period drama with a modern twist.

*This article contains spoilers for the TV series “Dickinson.”

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?” You may recognize this as the title of a famous work by Emily Dickinson, a poet who lived in the nineteenth century.

The two-season Apple TV series “Dickinson” attempts to capture the oddity and queerness of Emily Dickinson, by incorporating modern touches into what seems to be a period drama. The series doesn’t just lay out the storyline, but it draws the viewer in and keeps you wanting to understand more and more about this mysterious poet.  

“Dickinson” is a well-done TV series following the life of Emily Dickinson involving complex relationships mixed with historical characters and beautiful costuming.

One of the main focuses of the series is the homosexual relationship between Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) and Susan “Sue” Gilbert (Ella Hunt). The relationship between these two is written and portrayed surprisingly well. The pair begin as best friends but struggle with their relationship after Gilbert marries Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin Dickinson (Adrian Blake Enscoe). As Emily Dickinson struggles with her sexuality, Gilbert struggles with her marriage, while both continue to have feelings for and fall more and more in love with each other. 

Oftentimes, the worry with portraying non-heterosexual relationships in the media is often that it will be done in an offensive or stereotypical way, not providing positive representation. However, with Emily Dickinson and Gilbert, the pair have a deep connection that genuinely makes the viewer feel for them. The show also portrays sexuality the way that it is, confusing and messy but beautiful nonetheless. 

The series has noteworthy visual appeal. According to the costume designers, the main focus was to keep the costumes as historically accurate as possible. These costumes were wonderfully crafted and expressed each character individually. 

The character within each costume is shown in the two Dickinson sisters, Lavinia Dickinson (Anna Baryshnikov) and Emily Dickinson. Lavinia Dickinson is the younger of the two and is more traditional and naive than her sister. She often wears pink tones, brighter colors, and frills to express her personality. Emily Dickinson wears darker colors with more subtle details. The costuming of these characters adds to the visual appeal and helps with the viewer’s understanding of their personalities. 

The lack of knowledge surrounding Emily Dickinson adds to the overall intrigue of this show is the mysteriousness and weirdness, not much is known about her, so the production team took many creative liberties to portray Emily Dickinson’s life.

One of the noticeable creative liberties is the personification of death. Played by Wiz Khalifa, Death comes to Emily Dickinson in his carriage, and he is hinted at being merely a hallucination of hers, as she has many hallucinations during the series. This character stemmed from the famous Emily Dickinson poem “Because I could not stop for Death.” The addition of the character Death creates curiosity about what went on in Emily Dickinson’s life. 

Though, a creative liberty that was not so tactfully done is the use of modern slang. Emily Dickinson and others often swear or use language from outside their time period. It feels like a poorly done gimmick that doesn’t add to the appeal of the series and instead pulls you out of the story that is otherwise so engaging.  

Like “Bridgerton,” another popular period drama, “Dickinson” incorporates modern music into the series. Like the use of contemporary language, this takes away from the story and creates some confusion surrounding what is going on. 

Even though there were some poor choices in the production of this series, “Dickinson” expresses a beautiful love story that provides a safe space for queer people of many ages to learn about an essential part of their history, and find a character in popular culture that they connect with and relate to, while also contributing to the destigmatization of lesbian relationships.