Autumn 2009 Features series
Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 4:00pm
Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 7:00pm
Directed by Jane Campion
Screenplay by Jane Campion
Starring Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish
Rated PG ·
United Kingdom, Australia and France
Jane Campion has returned with a haunting film that some will compare with The Piano, but which is very much a work of its own: a bold retelling of the love affair between the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his neighbour Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).
Campion’s singular achievement in Bright Star is how she manages to inhabit the two quite different worlds of her protagonists. As their relationship progresses, it becomes achingly clear that their love for one another will never be an untroubled path to happiness. Bright, eager and open, Fanny is a fashion lover who endlessly devises her own distinctive outfits. At first sight, she appears to be a woman of superficial values, far removed from Keats’s serious occupation of putting pen to paper and wrestling with issues of the mind. Bold and flamboyant, Fanny seems capable of taking on every challenge, but Campion wastes no time in alerting us to the era’s restrictions on young women who were expected to marry well. While Fanny may wish to make her own way, society will not so easily bend to her will. The sensitive poet appeals to her far more than the other eligible bachelors she encounters, but there is one problem of which Keats is acutely aware: he has neither the means nor the career to support a wife financially; he is, and will remain, a penniless poet. At the same time, his feelings come under the constant scrutiny of his closest friend, Mr. Brown (Paul Schneider), a fellow poet who disapproves of the “shallow” Fanny.
Campion weaves Keats’s exquisite verse into the budding affair between the two young lovers. The mood is one of restraint and waiting as the couple observe the niceties of the day while struggling with their growing love. Eventually, its force becomes so powerful that they are compelled to take all the risks required to see their feelings through. Finely acted by Cornish and Whishaw, Bright Star is a beautifully crafted testament not only to a momentous love but to the life force that both John Keats and Fanny Brawne brought to the world.