Keats in Love – “Bright Star” (2009)
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.
— John Keats
The poem “Bright Star” by John Keats was written about his great love, Fanny Brawne.
Jane Campion’s 2009 film, Bright Star, brings this tragically romantic relationship to bold life.
The Plot —
Fanny is a girl who loves making clothes and going to dances. Keats is a haughty (and unsuccessful) poet. Yet, they’re attracted to each other, and Fanny asks him to teach her about poetry. Despite their falling in love, they know they can never be married, as Keats has no money. Yet, they’re in love and it’s all lovely. When Keats leaves for the summer, Fanny is devastated, even threatening to kill herself. However, he returns and all is well. Except that he’s coming down with tuberculosis. As Keats grows sicker, Fanny butts heads with the ape-like Charles Brown (his best friend.) Brown, who thinks of Fanny as silly and a waste of Keats time, forbids her from seeing her sick lover. Eventually, it’s decided (in that wonderfully old-fashioned way) that the best cure for Keats is to travel to Italy. Fanny, knowing full well he may not return to her, pleads with her mother to allow them to become engaged. Mother agrees, and the couple are to be wed. Keats, though, doesn’t return from Italy, having died in Rome.
Abbie Cornish is the real revelation here – as the story is more about Fanny than John. It’s Fanny who we see through the curtains of a home life (a mother and younger siblings.) As she morphs from silly and fashion-obsessed girl to a more adult lover of words, Cornish is able to remain a dazzling presence to watch. She also does a crying scene like nobody’s business. Ben Whishaw is exactly as emo and hipster as you’d expect Keats to be. Paul Schneider, playing the rather despicable role of Charles Brown, appears to be relishing the chance to play a straight-up arrogant prick.
(Meanwhile, Thomas Sangster – that delightful little boy from “Love, Actually” – is in the film, too, having sprouted up like a weed. He plays Fannys little brother, and is rather wasted in the role. He’s a much better actor than the numerous shots of him following Fanny through the woods allow him to showcase. Oh well, he’ll do other things.)
The film is exquisitely shot, and Campion fully embraces the wildflowers and butterflies and other aspects of nature that litter the works of the Romantic poets. The score is haunting and sparse, never overloading the scene, and the costumes are spot-on and in some cases (like Fannys creations) downright amazing.
If you like period dramas, and love stories, I’d say this should be on your list.