Writer Alena Smith and the cast of Apple TV+’s ‘Dickinson’ discuss the idea behind bringing the legendary poet, Emily Dickinson, on to the screen
When Apple TV+ announced that a show based on the American poet Emily Dickinson was in the works, audiences expected to a period drama with actors clad in Victorian clothes, speaking Shakespearean language and discussing history and poetry. But, as it turned out, what they watched when the show premièred on November 1st, 2019, was starkly different — in a good way.
Set in the 19th century, Dickinson explores the life of Emily Dickinson and sheds light on issues that were prevalent in the Dickinson era as well as in the present. The show is a stand out for its modern twist to its charactersand the way its titular character is etched out.
Says writer and director Alena Smith over a video call, along with the supporting cast, “My goal was to use the period leading to the Civil War as a metaphor to what is happening now. It [the show] operates in different ways, talks about gender, sexuality and race.”
Drawing parallels to the poet’s world in the 19th century and present day, the writer brings a contemporary view to the series.“She wrote over 2,000 poems, changed the course of American Literature but was never appreciated when she lived. I thought we could understand her better in today’s time,” says Smith, about her inspiration for the series.
We are also joined by actors Adrian Enscoe, Anna Baryshnikov and Ella Hunt, who play Emily Dickinson’s brother, sister and love interest respectively. Besides reading most of the poet’s work and copious research, the cast took a trip to Emily Dickinson’s homestead before the shoot, to get a better idea of what their characters’ world looked like.
“The rooms where we were supposed to be shooting in, were eerily similar to the real rooms we visited,” Baryshnikov adds. They say that the writer’s intention was not to show Emily Dickinson’s life as a chapter in a history textbook, but to focus on her spirit, while also exploring a world where she did not belong.
Playing Emily Dickinson is Academy Award nominee, Hailee Stienfeld, whose biggest takeaway from the character is her fearlessness and bravery. “At a time when she was forbidden to do anything she wanted to do, not only wanted to do, but what made her feel alive, she stopped at nothing,” says Stienfeld.
Stienfeld, who also serves as an executive producer on the show, says that she could not have asked for a better show to debut as a producer, “Season Two will explore all corners of fame and what it means to do what you want.”
The dynamic between Emily Dickinson and Sue Gilbert on the show is far from the truth, some might argue. The actual relationship that they shared is unknown to scholars and academicians; however, Alena Smith’s portrayal of their relationship is a joy to watch. “It is as messy, heart breaking and beautiful as in Season One , if not more in Season Two,” Stienfeld concludes.
Season One of Dickinson is currently streaming on Apple TV+ and Season Two premieres on January 8, 2021.