Runtime: 1 hr 59 min
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Samuel Barnett, Abbie Cornish, Kerry Fox, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider, Thomas Sangster
Ravishing and poetic.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 7 years ago
This is going to sound misleading, because I really enjoyed the film, but Bright Star is a minor letdown. I was hoping for something earth-shaking, and what I got was merely ravishing and poetic.
The film represents a return to form for director Jane Campion, best known for the Oscar-winning The Piano. Her career had taken an unfortunate turn with the drawing-room snooze-fest A Portrait of a Lady and the bizarrely graphic slasher flick In the Cut. Bright Star is refined but not polite, impassioned but not dewy-eyed. You want to BE these characters – not at the worst of times, but certainly at the best of times.
Ben Wishaw, who played the handsome young Arthur Rimbaud version of Dylan in I’m Not There, stars as John Keats. Today, Keats is known as one of the 19th Century’s great Romantic Poets, but here he’s just a penniless nobody with a sick brother to care for. Other critics have pointed this out, but one of the most fascinating elements of Bright Star is the way in which Keats is able to live a productive life with virtually no income. Standards of living have changed drastically in the Western world, leaving artists with less time to dream.
Keats finds his muse in the form of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish, from Stop-Loss). He rents a room at her house along with his writing partner, Charles Brown (Paul Schneider, from All the Real Girls). Keats is meek and sincere, while Brown is almost always up to no good. They provide a nice contrast. Brawne isn’t as uninhibited as Brown, but she’s no shrinking violet either. At one point she suggests that “perhaps Mr. Brown wants Mr. Keats all to himself.” (The writers DO seem unusually close.) Later, she confesses to Keats that she favors “wit and fashions – things that are amusing.” These characters live and breathe.
Abbie Cornish looks great in a bonnet, but there’s more to her performance than her looks. Keats died a young man, and Cornish has to take us from the highs of romantic rapture to the lows of unbearable tragedy. She carries it off extraordinarily well. We feel everything she feels bone deep.
This is certainly one of the most beautiful period films I’ve ever seen. The image of Keats and Brawne together in the woods is difficult to shake off. Their love story was a chaste one – modern convention simply didn’t allow for it to be anything other than that – and each time Wishaw and Cornish touch each other, you’re ready to break out in a sweat. I’m particularly haunted by the film’s final images, with Brawne dressed all in black, walking through the woods. Her younger brother, Samuel (Thomas Sangster, from Love Actually), follows close behind, ostensibly on suicide watch. Is love worth this kind of pain? The art and short life of John Keats – not to mention the new film he inspired – prove that the answer is always emphatically yes.