119 Min. | Biography – Drama – Romance | November 2009
IMDB Rating: 7.0
Director: Jane Campion
Staring: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider
Bright Star Review: Being best known for period films such as The Piano or Portrait of a Lady, Jane Campion has occasionally tried different things, most notably in 2003 when she directed the Meg Ryan-starring thriller. In the Cut, which was greeted with mixed reactions to say the least. Bright Star, well received by critics and audiences – but ignored by the jury – at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, is a welcome return to what the director does best. Bright Star revolves around the last three-four years in the life of Romantic poet John Keats (played in the film by Ben Whishaw), author of such masterpieces as Ode on a Grecian Urn, who met a premature demise at the age of 25, due to tuberculosis.
During those years (1818-1820, he died in Rome in early 1821), he met a woman named Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), and the two had a chaste yet passionate love story until his departure from England. His feelings for her were so intense, he wrote a poem to express his affection: Bright Star. Even if one doesn’t have extensive knowledge of Keats’ life, familiarity with Campion’s filmography should help in figuring out the ending. Nevertheless, the inevitable tragedy doesn’t prevent her witty screenplay and the fantastic interaction between Whishaw and Cornish (the former more at ease here than in Brideshead Revisited, the latter marvelous as usual) from creating a romance so powerful it convinces and moves all the way. Like the passion that linked Keats and Brawne, Campion’s direction is understated but always present, focusing on small details, both in the love story (the short, casual conversations between the two) and elsewhere (as always in her films, the period rendition is flawless).
The only times Bright Star drags is when Campion resorts to formula, requiring an antagonistic presence in the picture, like Harvey Keitel in The Piano: in this case, it is Keats’ friend and colleague Charles Brown (Paul Schneider, with an intermittent Scottish accent), whose constant criticisms towards Fanny and her feelings for the poet are no doubt amusing, but severely devoid of real dramatic meat. Fortunately, in Bright Star, the rest of the supporting cast delivers, with familiar British faces like Kerry Fox and Thomas Sangster (playing Fanny’s mother and younger brother respectively) contributing sparingly but effectively. Bright Star is a beautiful film about a beautiful story, wonderfully shot, written and acted. It may not reach the sublime heights of The Piano (still Campion’s masterpiece), but its heart and soul are certainly in the right place.