Bright Star is an engaging experience. Writer/director Jane Campion has crafted a beautiful film, as lyrical as a Romantic poem. We glide through this tender love story, sharing the passion, despair and sublime joy that the only young can generate. When poet John Keats meets 16 year-old Fanny Brawne, they spark from the beginning. We follow the waves of their romance to its inevitable and final separation. Not even Planet Hollywood could spin this piece of literary history into a happy ending.
The cast give stellar performances. Abby Cornish presents the feisty, independence of Elizabeth Bennet, combined with the obsessiveness of first love. Ben Whishaw is a very credible dying youth. He has the look, as well as delivering a lyric or two with some sensitivity. Janet Frame’s collaboration with Jane Campion began brilliantly in An Angel at My Table. She continues this success with a very spirited portrayal of Mrs Brawne.
Just as John Keats’s poetry isn’t for everyone, this film is not for the action movie crowd or costume soap opera. Its two hours running time moves with a modulated pace that matches the narrative perfectly.
The opening sequence has Fanny sewing her latest fashion creation. Campion’s close-ups, especially of hands and eyes, give the film an added intimacy. With its timeless quality, the film takes us well beyond the usual period piece. Nevertheless, its sets and costumes more than match its rivals and are sure to win awards.
The essential elements of rivalry and jealousy are realised not in other women but in the form of Keats’ close friend Charles Brown, played with suitable intensity by Paul Schneider.
Like a Jane Austen novel, the letter is a vital player in their courtship and his absences. Fittingly there is a letter competition on the website. Nothing beats love letters from a poet. Campion is not afraid to let Keats’ poetry speak for him.
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.
However, it’s not just a romance. Keats struggles for everyday survival not just fame. His enemies are poverty and disease not just the critics. Fanny is his brightest star and Jane Campion brings her to life in a masterful way.