Bright Star (2009)

  • Time: 119 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Jane Campion
  • Cast: Abbie Cornish, Ben Wishaw, Paul Schneider


The three-year romance between 19th-century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne near the end of his life.

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  • Jane Campion continues her fascination with the period drama. Her latest film, Bright Star, premiered at Cannes and is in the running for an Oscar for Best Costume Design. Best known for the acclaimed picture, The Piano (1993), Campion now shifts her attention to John Keats (Ben Whishaw), a famous English poet who lived in the 19th century.

    Falling short of making a biographical picture of Keats that only literature scholars will salivate on, Campion decided to film Bright Star from the perspective of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), the woman who fell in love with Keats in a secret (and forbidden) relationship.

    Keats was a dreamer. He wrote poetry as a form of expressing hypothetical desires – the wish for a perfect world and an utopian understanding of what constituted beauty and love. He had little income and remained an outsider who was oblivious to cultural norms.

    In short, the world was himself and he was his own world. On the other hand, Brawne was a realist. She was born into a middle-class family, lived satisfactorily within her own means, and passed her time through stitching elaborately designed clothing. Her love affair with Keats grew slowly with occasional chance meetings and blossomed into a comfortable embracement that appeared awkward, at best, to outsiders.

    The film’s other major character was Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), a zealous and overprotective friend of Keats, who tried to separate them. Campion draws out the tensions among the three main characters without going overboard into theatrics. Her direction is sensitive and understated. And this is important for a picture as refined as Bright Star.

    Edited with a pace equivalent to a morning stroll in the wilderness, Bright Star may be too refined for mainstream tastes as Campion indulges in a visual style that emphasizes on the regality of the period e.g. stately costumes worn by the leads, and the blissful nature of life through silent sequences in which characters interact non-verbally.

    A good example is a sequence which shows Keats and Brawne flirting with each other as they walk behind the latter’s younger sister, Toots. Whenever Toots turns around, they would freeze in a comical position.

    In addition, Campion’s screenplay is more “textual” than most films of similar genre. At best, the dialogue between the characters is poetic and beautifully written. Sometimes it gets too abstract though, and coupling with the thick English accent used by the characters, it may be difficult to interpret what was said.

    Bright Star can be appreciated on its own terms and for Cornish’s excellent performance, but only a select few can fully embrace (and enjoy) what Campion has accomplished. I am most definitely not one of them.

    GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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