Bright Star (PG)

Written and directed by Jane Campion
Screening at FACT from 8th November 2009

Reviewed by Nadia Baha

While watching this film, you are in another world, for about two hours this is your life - the lives of John Keats and Fanny Brawne.

Jane Campion, known for her slow and poetic films (e.g. The Piano, which won her an Oscar), wrote and directed this film.

Bright Star is set in 1818. John Keats (Ben Whishaw), a quite unknown and penniless poet moves in next door to where the Brawne family lives. Fanny (Abbie Cornish), a down to earth and practical lover of clothes, fashion and dance doesn’t understand Keats' world of words and dreams at first. He thinks of her being a stylish “minx”. But when they open their worlds to each other they understand and fall in love.

When Keats' brother Tom passes away, Keats is touched by Fanny’s effort to help and console him and she is moved, because Keats took care of this brother until the end. Fanny asks for poetry lessons and Keats teaches her that poetry is not to be analysed but felt. They start writing letters to each other and a love affair begins. They become more and more absorbed in each other but they face lots of problems. Keats always feels “not good enough” as he has no money to marry her and she - once her mother finds out - has to defend her love for Keats. Everyone tells her to forget him – he has nothing to offer her and won’t be able to support her financially. Keats' so-called friend Charles Brown (Paul Schneider) tries his best to make Fanny stay away from Keats, and even sends her a valentine to make Keats jealous and show him she is not worth it. Brown is jealous of Fanny like a band member might be jealous of the singer’s girlfriend or wife. Keats and Brown are the exact opposite. Keats is pale, intense ,sensitive, fragile and soft; Brown is red faced, robust, rough and shameless. He doesn’t care.

Brown and Keats move away to write and try and make money but always come back again. When Keats falls ill with tuberculosis, Fanny and her family stay by his side. Keats’ friends pay for his travel to Italy where he should recover but he dies shortly after his arrival in Rome.

Fanny Brawne never forgot Keats and always wore his engagement ring. She also wore black for years. John Keats - who always thought of himself as “nothing” and “worthless” - is one of the most famous Romantic poets.

The two main characters - played by the remarkable actors Whishaw and Cornish - come to life, they are both very natural and real. The intensity of the images and dialogue is hard to describe.

This film, like poetry, should rather be seen and felt than written about. A beautiful, powerful film, that will linger on in your mind. Just like Keats' poetry.

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