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Bright Star

May 21, 2012

Bright Star (2009)
Director: Jane Campion
Actors: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider

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Synopsis: Impoverished poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) begins a tentative romance with his neighbour, Fanny Brawn (Abbie Cornish), although Keats’s frail health threatens the relationship’s longevity.

Review: Back in 2008, I remember getting off my regular commuter train at Waterloo, and I caught sight of one of my favourite, but still relatively unknown, American actors – Paul Schneider – sitting quietly out on the station concourse. I recall wondering if he was out here working, or simply on some travels, and so it turns out he was making this lovely little film about the work and life of one of Britain’s best-loved poets, John Keats. And although Schneider had a secondary role as Keats’s friend and all-round ‘support network’ Charles Brown, there is something about his clever performance and moving final eulogy to his friend – “I failed John Keats” – which symbolises all that is good about this film.

Obviously, Jane Campion does a stellar job too, and although I feel her work is often limited by its reception exclusively through the prism of feminism, the decision to film this tribute to Keats by centering the narrative around Fanny Brawn and her burgeoning romance to Keats, cleverly embellishes how it is the muse of the poet that is as important as the poet themselves.

Making a film about writing and poetry is notoriously difficult, but here, once again, the film succeeds in making the lustre of Keats’ words come borne out of the inspiration he finds in his love for Fanny Brawn and the aching beauty of the natural world that their relationship blossoms in. Sure, once or twice the film does almost wallow in this sensuality, but in total, Keats’ poetry is honoured through choice voiceovers or judiciously placed monologues offering Ben Whishaw the chance to demonstrate his beautiful verse-speaking (a great piece of casting that, by the way). (May 2012)

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