Screenwriters: Jane Campion
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox, Thomas Sangster, Edie Martin
Running Time: 118 mins
An elegantly acted and directed telling of the relationship between 19th century Romantic poet John Keats and his neighbour Fanny Brawne, Bright Star is a moving drama about a deep and intense first love. It pulls into focus the last three years of Keats's life as he meets - and falls for - the girl next door and writes his most famous works. Director Jane Campion may have been patchy since her breakthrough with 1993's The Piano (Meg Ryan still hasn't recovered from In The Cut) but, whisper it quietly, this biographical film might grab some awards attention for its magnetic leads when the Oscars roll around.
The love-struck couple are brought together by the illness of Keats's younger brother Tom. Fanny starts taking poetry lessons from Keats and they begin to work each other out. Keats is suspicious of his young tutee, he feels she is a minx and she herself acknowledges that she's a flirter and dancer. Much to John's dismay, Fanny doesn't understand literature and hasn't been impressed by his work so far. He snaps back that the form "soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery". Their mutual curiosity turns to attraction and eventually love, yet Fanny's mother and John's best friend Brown (Schneider) warn them that their relationship is doomed. Keats is penniless and therefore viewed as an unfit husband, while Brown is trying to protect his friend from the inevitable broken heart.
The film hangs on Cornish and Whishaw's chemistry, and Campion strikes gold with the young stars, who make for a captivating screen couple. Cornish's vibrancy and vitality are in sharp contrast to Whishaw's frail and tortured artist. The stolen glances, exchanged love letters and ease in each other's company are intimately captured by Campion. The moment that encapsulates this best is as they hold hands while trailing behind Fanny's younger sister Toots. As Toots turns around, the lovebirds playfully freeze in a game of statues.
Despondent and suffering from writer's block until he meets Fanny, John experiences a creative surge and pens some of his most memorable poems, including 'Ode to a Nightingale' (rendered in a beautiful sequence here and recited again over the end credits) and the sonnet about Fanny which this film is named after. John and Fanny appear to only be happy when they're together and in great pain when they're apart, foreshadowing a tragic end to their union. The poet would eventually lose his life to tuberculosis in Italy without marrying his love - she mourned Keats's death for the rest of her life, never taking off the ring he gave her.
Bright Star may not have the allure of vampires to bring in huge crowds, but it's a wonderfully realised account of intoxicating love and a movie with spirit and soul. Don't expect it to set the box office on fire though, it's a film that will find a bigger audience when the BAFTAs and Oscars come knocking next year.
> What do you think of the movie? Share your views