Emily Dickinson never got married, but she did share a close and intense bond with her best friend Sue Gilber, played by Ella Hunt in Apple TV+'s Dickinson. Sue "exudes a mysterious darkness, but she’s not necessarily cynical," according to the official show description. It continues, "she’s endured true hardship and is dry and mature beyond her years as a result. Deeply intelligent, though she can sometimes read as aloof or unavailable. She loves Emily, and is sporadically hot for Austin, but the intensity of the Dickinsons can at times overwhelm her."
In an interview with WWD, Hunt said that she thinks Dickinson will be relatable to young viewers. She said, "I think young people are going to be really captivated by [Emily Dickinson], because of the way she lived her life. She never got married, her sexuality is kind of undefined as well, she was fluid and I think that’s such a big topic of discussion in today’s world."
Sue is Hunt's first major American role, with her previous work taking place in her native UK. According to her IMDB page, her first role came in 2011, when she starred as Ella Foster in the Clive Owen fantasy thriller Intruders. She had a few smaller parts on TV and in films before landing the role of Ellie Marsden in Cold Feet in 2016. Hunt headed back to the big screen in indie comedies The More You Ignore Me and Summer Night before landing Dickinson, which, given the breadth of Apple's platform, will likely introduce her to a whole new swath of viewers.
Given what a central figure Sue Gilbert was in the real Emily Dickinson's life, it seems safe to assume that Hunt will have the opportunity to bring her to life in a major way in Dickinson as well. While Sue was Emily's sister-in-law, married to Emily's brother Austin, it was her relationship with Emily that has made her so memorable, historically speaking, and that will likely take center-stage in the TV series.
The exact nature of the relationship between Sue and Emily is unknown but remains a popular subject of speculation among Dickinson scholars. Were they simply good friends, as it would have appeared to their contemporaries? Did Emily have one-sided romantic feelings for Sue, or did Sue reciprocate and engage in a love affair with Emily? Hunt told Bustle reporter Amanda Whiting that she enjoyed playing out the ambiguous nature of their relationship. "I really trusted the scripts and Alena Smith because her knowledge of Emily Dickinson and Dickinson’s life. I read a lot of source material and essays, and there's a book called Open Me Carefully that kind of examines the letters that they wrote to each other. I trusted in the letters."
She added, "And I read up a lot about female friendships and relationships in the 1800s. There were women that had sort of intense, romantic relationships, but we don't know whether they were sexual or not. But we do know that two women were able to live in a house together as lovers, unless a man came on the picture and was like, I need to marry you. But female friendship was, I think, viewed very differently in the 1800s, so I trusted in that and in the writing.”
While Dickinson might take some artistic license with Emily and Sue's relationship, Hunt will regardless play an integral role in bringing that story to life.