Poetry in motion…
It’s 1818, and young Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) is more interested in fashion than men, and when she meets 23-year-old poet John Keats (Ben Wishaw) she thinks his work – and his character – somewhat lacking. Over time, however, Fanny comes to realise the brilliance of Keats’s verse, and admiration soon spills over into a passionate love affair. Although their relationship seems doomed from the outset, given that Keats does not have the fortune or stature to be considered good husband material, the pair are determined to be together, understanding that theirs is a love that knows no obstacles. Yet when Keats falls seriously ill, their bond is pushed to the absolute limit…
Of course, you don’t have to be a student of literature to know that this is a story that does not end well, Keats’ death at the age of 25 is historical fact that cannot be ignored. Yet this does not diminish the brilliance of Bright Star. The love story between John and Fanny fuels the narrative and draws in the viewer – we root for their happiness even though we know only heartbreak lies ahead. And this is primarily due to the mesmerising central performances from Abbie Cornish and Ben Wishaw; the chemistry between them is utterly palpable, sparks flying out of the screen whenever they are together even though their physical relationship conforms to the morality of the day and so does not progress pass a few stolen kisses. Cornish gives Fanny a quiet strength akin to the very best Jane Austen heroines, while Wishaw is proving to be an actor of immense natural talent, his portrayal of Keats taking us to the very heart of the man behind those celebrated words. And, put in the context of this chaste yet tumultuous love affair, those words take on an extra depth as they are spoken aloud by Keats and Fanny, even as she mourns him.
Campion has not made a feature since 2003’s sexual thriller In the Cut, but Bright Star is more reminiscent of her earlier works like The Piano (1993) and The Portrait of a Lady (1996). She certainly knows how to tell a story, and her ability to focus on those feelings and emotions that remains unspoken gives the film an intensity and depth that will resonate with a modern audience despite the period setting. 4 stars
Unavailable for review, but should include a documentary about director Jane Campion, deleted scenes and a photo gallery.
Stars Ben Wishaw, Abbie Cornish
Director Jane Campion
Distributor Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainmen
Released March 8
This review was originally published at www.moviescopemag.com