Dickinson (Apple TV 2019)

Dickinson2 Kernels

I once saw a meme on Facebook that said, “Emily Dickinson wrote some of the most beautiful poetry in the world, and then went stark raving mad.”  Perhaps not totally true, but she did end up a recluse in life.

Now comes Apple TV to give us their rendition of Emily’s life, and I think I went stark raving mad at the end of it. Words like these in other mainstream reviews pretty much sum it up – “confused, disrespectful mess,” “warped,” “flawed,” “wild,” “weird,” and “absurd.” Well, you get the drift. I guess you can add my thoughts about that series as disturbingly odd. It’s the type of show that requires the viewer to have a particular taste to enjoy, once you get over the initial shock.

Frankly, I love period dramas and had high hopes on this particular one until about thirty minutes into the first episode. Apple TV really stretches the historical barriers to this story about Emily, who loves to write poetry. She comes from a traditional family with a mother who is desperate to marry her off and teach her to be a homemaker and an over-the-top puritanical father who wants Emily to act as young ladies should. They are an affluent family, and Emily has one brother and sister. She loves to write, but her father forbids her and often flies into a rage when her poems get published in the local news.

Emily, portrayed in this story, is a thinker, dreamer, and often hallucinates various scenes in her life. The most frequent is her oddity in knowing death as a person, who she sees with ghostly horses, pulling the carriage. Her appearance changes with bright red lipstick and a red dress, and she gets in the carriage and talks to him about her problems. It’s an odd relationship, that puts the macabre slant on the story. Most of Emily’s poems focus on death.

Emily is also a lesbian and is in love with her best friend Sue, who eventually marries her brother. Sue swings both ways, and the relationship is a focal point of the story.  The lives of her parents and siblings are also the center stage, as well as her circle of friends.

You will discover the young crowd in Victorian clothing are really the millennials of today.  Their language is modern and not Victorian in style. The series is focused on the younger viewers, attempting in my opinion to make a Victorian story relevant to the twenty-first-century youth. Naturally, as a baby boomer, I thought the series too quirky and weird for my taste. It also screams of modern pop and rock music as the score, that is so loud you have to down the volume when it starts blaring. I’m sure there are some who like these oddball renditions of history that attempt to reach the younger crowd.

On a positive note, I will say some of the dialogue spoken in this story, which is set pre-Civil War, is applicable for today. The young girls who cannot cast a vote are politically smart on the issues of the day. Discussions about slavery, political parties, and the state of the nation sound eerily like 2020.  The same issues remain.

Emily Dickinson’s life is interesting, and if you wish to know more about her take a Wikipedia trip to read about her life and writing. Her story is fascinating, but the execution in this particular series is just not my cup of tea. That is not to say, that it isn’t for many other viewers. Whatever floats your remote is fine with me.

Apparently, there will be a season two, which I probably will ignore. I’ll close with a few words from Emily.

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

To read the entire poem, visit the Poetry Foundation.


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