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Apple TV+ gives US poet Dickinson a 21st century reboot

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New York (AFP)

Apple's new streaming service is taking a 21st century look at the life of 19th century poet Emily Dickinson in hopes it will strike a chord with America's youth.

The series, simply called "Dickinson," stars 22-year-old actress Hailee Steinfeld in the leading role, and hums with updated language and music by teen idol Billie Eilish and rapper Travis Scott.

"It's a great opportunity for younger people to look at Emily Dickinson's life and work in a very new way and a modern way," said Jane Krakowski, who plays the poet's mother.

"If we could do all history this way, I think kids would love history in school," she added during a panel discussion with reporters in New York this month.

The series lands on Friday when Apple TV+, the giant's new subscription service, goes online.

Apple is not the first broadcaster to tackle the enigmatic life of Dickinson, who only became famous after her death in 1886 at age 55.

"A Quiet Passion" hit movie screens in 2016 and "Wild Nights with Emily" came out in 2018. Both received glowing reviews but failed to connect with viewers at the box office.

The new Apple series, created by Alena Smith, takes a rather unique approach.

The black comedy focuses on Dickinson's rebellious youth during an upbringing in a conventional middle-class New England household.

While the costumes and props make it look like a period drama, some of the slang used in conversation and popular music is distinctly modern.

"I see this as a coming-of-age story about a young radical artist who was ahead of her time," said Smith.

"I use modern language and modern music to show the way Emily's inner consciousness is bursting at the seams against the corseted repressive rules and norms of the 19th century that she's living in."

- 'Risk' -

Steinfeld first gained attention in Hollywood about a decade ago, when she earned an Oscar nomination for her work opposite Jeff Bridges in a reboot of "True Grit."

But the target audience for "Dickinson" -- teens and young adults -- will know her from her roles in the "Pitch Perfect" films and the action movie "Bumblebee," part of the "Transformers" franchise.

"It's an incredibly contemporary story for young people because it's about a young queer poet wondering if there's space for her in the world," said Anna Baryshnikov, who plays Dickinson's sister Lavinia.

"Dickinson" focuses heavily on the protagonist's passionate relationship with her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert.

Although there has never been any clear evidence of an affair, many experts suspect their relationship was more than just friendship.

With its mischievous tone and digressions, the series strives to reflect the richness of Dickinson's inner world to overcome what appears on the outside to be a monotonous existence.

The poet spent almost her entire life in the family home, with little outside relief. She sought solace in poetry; the majority of her more than 1,000 poems were published after she died.

Apple TV+ is one of several new on-demand streaming platforms launching in the coming months to take on the might of Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The surge in the number of services is providing fertile ground for unconventional series such as "Dickinson," its creators and cast say.

"I'm so grateful that Apple is taking this real risk. Because the space is so saturated right now, it leaves room for people to try things," said Baryshnikov.

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