Dickinson: Do or Don’t? Five Tries to Decide


So this trailer for the Apple TV series Dickinson (2019) dropped recently, and I can’t get it out of my head…

This purported comedy intends to “explore the constraints of society, gender and family from the perspective of the rebellious young poet, Emily Dickinson” and while set in Dickinson’s era the show has “a modern sensibility and tone.” Uh-huh.

On the one hand, yes, it’s horrifying on a historical accuracy level. But on the other hand, it’s Emily Dickinson getting sexed up which is pretty much the least likely thing this English major ever thought she’d see happen — AND THE SECOND TIME IN ONE YEAR — and that’s pretty fucking cool. YAY POETRY NERDS, WE ROCK!!!


Five things about Dickinson, pro or con?


1. Blatant Modernisms

Dickinson (2019)

Twerking, devil horns, etc., in frock flicks just aren’t funny anymore, it’s just dumb. Also, I hatehatehate that fucking music. CON.

Dickinson (2019)

I’m guessing this is a theatrical presentation, but still, really?

Dickinson (2019)




2. Good-Enough Costuming

Dickinson (2019)

I like that the costuming appears to be better than Wild Nights With Emily (2019). OK, that’s a low bar, but hey, it’s my list!

Dickinson (2019)

I’m hoping the cig is a behind-the-scenes thing — but the dress is perfectly period! Look, there’s even proper shoes & hair.

However, this red poly satin prom vampire wanna-be thing irritates the fuck out of me. The dresses in the dancing scene look much better. PRO?

Dickinson (2019)


3. Mediocre Hair

Dickinson (2019)

OK, hear me out — y’all want to scream “somebody needs some hairpins,” but let’s review what scenes Emily has her hair loose and notice when she does have her hair pinned up. First pic, she’s in a chemise in her bedroom, so NBD for her hair to be down.

Dickinson (2019)

Here, she’s contrasted with Sue, so maybe it’s a plot point? Also, Emily is wearing the same white dress as the behind-the-scenes pic above, so maybe her hair started up?

Dickinson (2019)

This one just looks like a daytime dress, so yeah, needs some hairpins.

Dickinson (2019)

Sewing, making snarky comments, hair up!

Dickinson (2019)

Being moody outside, hair also up!

Dickinson (2019)

Rocking out with your BFF, in your undies, hey — still with your hair up!

Is the hair actually a PRO?


4. Obligatory Poetry

Dickinson (2019)

The trailer leans heavily on “Wild Nights,” which doesn’t seems smart to me, given that Wild Nights With Emily just came out and would appeal to the exact same audience. Dickinson wrote about 1,800 poems, so there were plenty of others to choose from! The trailer shows Emily writing and speaking her poetry, as well as the poems coming to life, which is an obvious lit-bio trope, but I like it. PRO.

Dickinson (2019)

It’s a stretch, but maybe this scene is in reference to Dickinson’s poem: “I’ve known a Heaven, like a Tent.”


5. Queer Themes & Cross-Dressing

Dickinson (2019)

The Mary Sue really picked up on this via “lingering glances” between the female characters. Also, starring as Emily is young actress / pop star Hailee Steinfeld, who may not be queer, but she collaborated on MNEK’s LGBTQ anthem “Colour” and appears supportive of the queer community. Also, fuck yeah, cross-dressing Emily Dickinson! Nope, not historically accurate, but it’s like she walked out of my lit-nerd wet dreams. PRO

Guess I came out as 3.5 – 4 pro and only 1 big con. This is just based on a little trailer, so of course the series could suck. Guess I’ll have to pony up for an Apple TV subscription to see!



OK, let’s hear it — you’re more CON on Dickinson, aren’t you all?

26 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m going to pass on it. It’s just too loud and inaccurate historically. Maybe even to the travesty level. For me a great big CON.

    • Debby

      Agreed. I watch alot of historical dramas. Even tho many of them do play on rumors of those people or play on them and may have some fictitious ideas to make more drama. Normally it’s minimal enough for me to be okay with the show. Often times if I don’t know that part of history well I’ll watch the show and read up on that time period or that person to see how much they got right and how much was for drama. From what I know of Emily she was a shy person and later in life rarely left her room. It was even said she wouldn’t greet people. Possibly from being so shy? I don’t see her acting in those ways. Acting out in front of people. I feel she showed her emotions through her poetry. She had really bad social aniexty. It was also said she wore white alot. Granted she may of been forced to wear colors in dresses, she sure wears alot of colors in trailers. I can deal with small stuff for drama, but blatant character changes in a person really is annoying. When I saw the trailer I actually relooked her up because I thought maybe I was getting women mixed up since she seems like this rebelous almost obnoxious girl in the trailer. I think its great thry are trying to get a message out that women need to stand up for themselves and for that time it was hard to. Or the cross dressing. I don’t understand why they picked a real person for this, that didn’t act out in that way. They would of been better off picking another lady, such as one from the suffrage (they were quite rebelous at the time) or made up a character.

    • Debby

      Tho I’m probs the worst for holly wood/studios. All the historical dramas I do like normally get canceled. Maybe the audiences just don’t like history. I find it fascinating. I watch every documentary I can get my hands on. So when a drama pops up. I’ll all for it.

    • Debby

      What’s the point of setting it in that time period if your gonna modernize it???

  2. Saraquill

    My main thought watching this was “The Dead Author’s Podcast had a more accurate depiction of Dickinson, where she was portrayed by a cross dressing comedian.” (Do check out the podcast, it’s hilarious)

    They are trying WAY too hard to be “hip.” Surely her life was interesting enough without throwing this stuff in?

    • Trystan L. Bass

      I love a new podcast, so I’ll check it out, thanks!

      Agree that the trailer is trying hard — but trailers often do. That’s why I’m looking more closely at what’s on the screen ;)

  3. Nzie

    Just feels a bit… reign-y? With the music? It was jarring how some things could be so right and some so off. Also, I’m not a Dickinson fan girl (she’s fine) so… so far not tempted to get Apple TV just yet.

  4. Lyanna Faerie

    Could you review Romeo and Juliet 2013? Because Juliet’s outfits look accurate, but I’m not really sure.

  5. MJ

    A waste of Hailee Steinfeld if you ask me. She could be an incredible straight-forward Emily Dickinson, and how dang hard is it to just do that story? Not compelling enough for Hollywood? I have to guess so, since they haven’t bothered with one and feel so strongly that only a sexed-up Dickinson can appeal to the current generation.

    And that red vamp dress bothers the crap out of me.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Try ‘A Quiet Passion’ — https://www.frockflicks.com/quiet-passion-2017/

      It was nice & relatively historically accurate. But it didn’t know about (or ignored?) recent scholarship about Emily’s romantic letters with & poetry for her sister-in-law, so unlike Wild Nights & Dickinson, there’s no queer angle. I’m glad these newer biopics have capitalized on the previously hidden aspects of the poet’s life.

    • Kendra

      Thirded on the red dress — wtf? Everything else looks decent! Why lead with that crap? (Probably b/c it looks like a prom dress…)

  6. Katie O.

    The whole “historical figures acting modern” thing is funny if it’s a short youtube video or SNL sketch but when it’s something with a plot that I’m supposed to be somewhat invested in I can’t get into it

    • M.E. Lawrence

      I second your post. The word “pandering” comes to mind if the production is more than 20 minutes long and you have to pay to see it.

      • Kitty

        Agree!! I esp feel that the queer angle might go too far into pandering territory, but on the other hand it’s nice to see those details used at all so…

  7. N

    I hope all these comments are in good fun. But I actually worked on the show. We all put a lot of hard work into making the show as accurate as possible. And working on this show has been such a great experience.
    The costume designer is John Dunn by the way and his previous costume designs speak for themselves.

    • Trystan

      But that was pretty historically inaccurate too! It perpetuated cliches about Dickinson :(

      • MoHub

        True, but it was a great play, and Julie Harris was magical. And the text came from Dickinson’s writings.

  8. Sarah Lorraine

    I dunno about any of this, all I came here to say is that I finally got around to watching True Grit and Hailee Steinfeld was fabulous.

    Oh. And I like the red satin prom dress. Fight me.

    • Amanda

      Honestly I loved her in True Grit (and Everything else about that movie) and i think this is just a waste of her talent. She’s so far above acting line some kind of belligerent millenial (I say, since I am one). I think Emily was quirky, and whimsical, and straight up ahead of get time but I think she was also mature and this just seems like its trying to satisfy by saying “hey look at these queer history people, they’re bitchy just like us.” Which can be done, but I just don’t like the look of this.

  9. Poetryqn

    Nope. Personally I abhor modern/historical mashups to make some historical figure more ‘relevant’ to modern audiences. The recent scholarship is interesting enough on its own without adding twerking, etc. I sat through it for Coppola’s Marie Antoinette for the first and last time. It was a novelty…once.

  10. Lily Lotus Rose

    Whoa! Nothing about the trailer entices me to watch what looks like will be a hot mess. Well, I might have to watch one episode to confirm that it will be a hot mess. ;) That said, all art is a product of its time. So even historical pieces that play it straight and seem to have their acts together still reflect the tastes and thinking of their times. How many posts on this website have been dedicated to that very issue? With regard to willfully injecting anachronisms–costumes, behavior, vocabulary–into historical pieces, I cannot condemn it wholesale. Sometimes it is wildly successful and fresh, and it provides an entree into material that until then had seemed stuffy, fusty, and far-removed from modern sensibilities. Other times it comes across as tasteless, tacky, and tonally inappropriate. In the end taste is indefensible. But oh what fun we have on FrockFlicks fiercely defending our tastes!