Alena Smith’s Dickinson explores the life of legendary poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld), the world around her, and her journey to becoming a great writer.
When the first official teaser trailer for Dickinson was released back on August 26, 2019, I remember vividly being incredibly excited to see what visionary creator Alena Smith had up her sleeves, especially since the show was being heavily promoted as a darkly comedic take on Emily Dickinson, one of the most famous poets in history. Seeing a show take somebody such as Emily, a time period of the 1800s, and having a fresh, modern spin on it did seem a little bit jarring, but also extremely interesting at the same time.
That initial teaser did not do too much for me, unfortunately. It was only about a minute long and told us virtually nothing about the show, and some of the scenes that were showcased just did not look all that interesting to me. But nonetheless, I held hope on this project for one reason – Hailee Steinfeld.
Steinfeld is easily my favorite actress of all time, and is without a doubt, a true force to be reckoned with. She is genuinely ahead of her time and never fails to amaze with her ever-expanding filmography and discography, with hits such as Bumblebee and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in her belt just in the last year alone. I had complete confidence that Steinfeld picked Dickinson as her next project for a good reason. Now that I have seen all ten episodes of the show on new streaming service Apple TV+, I can easily see why Steinfeld chose this project. It is breathtakingly beautiful.
By far one of the strongest aspects Dickinson boasts is its amazing cast, consisting of a lot of relatively unknown actors and actresses, despite a megastar such as Steinfeld at the lead. Emily’s sister Lavinia, portrayed by Anna Baryshnikov, is an up and coming talent, and provides a large portion of the show’s comedy, and it was always funny. Her personality is somewhat of a crazy cat lady and always has something funny to say to do throughout. That is not to say that she has nothing else to do, because there are a few moments where we actually get to see Lavinia and her relationships with people she loves and we get some emotional moments as well.
Another promising talent that is a lead here is Adrian Enscoe as Austin Dickinson, Emily’s brother that wants more than anything, to win the heart of Emily’s best friend Sue Gilbert (Ella Hunt). His character, while at first simple, eventually becomes one of the most interesting characters as the show progressed and we get to him open up about how he feels about certain situations. Speaking of Sue, her character was perhaps one of the most beautifully real characters I have seen in a television show in years. She is so nuanced and has been through incredibly rough times in her life, and one of the only ways she can find true happiness is spending time with Emily.
When it comes to Emily, it should come as no surprise that she is without a doubt the true standout of the show, and is by far the most interesting of the bunch. She dreams of becoming a writer and constantly writes, but her father Edward (Toby Huss) disapproves of this entirely. He thinks that a woman should be doing housework and getting into marriage, and that is it. This is where some of the show’s brilliance and power comes into play. Emily is not standing for any of that. She is no housewife and wants to set out to do something she wants to do. Not something her father wants. She feels there is more to life than being a wife and doing house work all day. She wants to become the world’s greatest writer, and does whatever it takes to get there. Seeing this storyline in Dickinson was greatly emotional and it makes it easy to root for Emily.
Modern language is also used in this show as I touched upon at the beginning. At times, this can be really funny and makes for some great memorable moments. But it can also be extremely bizarre at times and it did not always work for me. Strangely enough, the music was almost always great, with a few exceptions. The music is also 2019 music and for some, this will be off-putting. But I personally loved hearing singers such as Billie Eilish propel the Dickinson story along.
Speaking of the story, it is one that I at first was unsure as to where it was going. The first few episodes, while really great, seemed a little bit lost at first. It was not always clear where it was going to go. But after a few episodes, the show’s direction became crystal clear and it grew on me instantly. Smith is a creative genius. She chooses wisely to focus on the small moments in the Dickinson’s lives. There is an entire episode where we just see the Dickinson household throw a party where they all drink and dance, with Emily even dancing with a gigantic bumblebee. There’s also a moment where we just see Emily baking bread in the kitchen for her father. Moments like these are what help make Dickinson feel so special. It pauses and explores smaller moments rather than trying to be something on an epic scale. So many television shows tend to feel like something big has to happen every other minute. But not Dickinson. Which is why it is so beautiful.
Dickinson‘s first season is a mesmerizing, emotionally powerful, and brilliantly told story that boasts incredible performances, and touching character beats.
Overall Grade: A-
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Toby Huss, Anna Baryshnikov, Ella Hunt, Adrian Enscoe, Jane Krakowski
Episode Count: 10
Network: Apple TV+
Created by: Alena Smith