Film Review: Bright Star (2009)

21 Dec

One thing I love about the movies is lurching from one genre to another, [like demented cork in celluloid sea? -Ed]. In the last week I’ve seen Ricky Gervais’ THE INVENTION OF LYING, Johnny To’s Hong Kong gangster flick VENGEANCE starring the charismatic French pop legend Johnny Hallyday, the iconic Melbourne-set ON THE BEACH with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, and THE INTRUDER, an early career curio from director Roger Corman starring a young William Shatner as a racist bigot!

And last night I caught BRIGHT STAR, the latest film from the multi-talented New Zealand writer and director Jane Campion. Perhaps best know for her 1993 mega hit THE PIANO for which she won that year’s writing Oscar, she’s back in period film mode after films like HOLY SMOKE and IN THE CUT, and it’s a winner.

Set in London from 1818 it charts the brief yet passionate affair between the Romantic poet John Keats, and his neighbour (and muse) Fanny Brawne [sorry but that is fantastic name -Ed]. His is a major talent which is being encouraged by his friend and mentor Charles Brown, who dislikes the growing attraction between the struggling poet and the creative seamstress [does he also dislike flying kites? ok, i’m done now -Ed]. Miss Brawne is much enchanted by Mr Keats’ poetry and determines to learn and understand the nuances and passionate feelings in his verses, and he in turn finds inspiration from his growing friendship with the feisty Fanny. However, the times dictate that their love affair can’t really progress as the penniless poet isn’t a suitable suitor for the very eligible and beautiful young lady.

It soon becomes clear that Keats is not a well young man, his brother has already died, and as his health deteriorates the affair ramps up as the two young lovers become more reliant on each other. Ultimately the pair are separated when he relocates to Italy, and even though we (probably) all know the facts about his early death at the age of 25 the audience at my screening were sobbing, along with Brawne (Abbie Cornish in an award-winning performance I’m sure), when the sad news is finally delivered.

Cleverly woven around the doomed affair is a secondary story about Keats’ friend Brown’s indiscretions with a young Irish chambermaid which highlights the class differences and morals of the privileged and the below-stairs working class at that time, and the exquisite social graces and customs which governed the lives of those with money. There are also beautiful scenes of lavender fields and snow laden trees for the two young lovers to romp around, and stunning shots of fragile butterflies ‘that liv’d but three summer days’.

BRIGHT STAR worked its magic on me, and full marks go to Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw as Keats for pitch perfect performances (Australian actress Cornish really nails the often difficult posh-end English accent), and special mention must go to the delightful Edie Martin who was an absolute pleasure in her every scene as Fanny’s younger sister ‘Toots’. The lush cinematography and haunting violin and strings-based soundtrack contribute to making this film an ideal ‘date movie’ whether familiar with Keats’ poetry or not. And it you’re not you’ll be rushing out to read more. I certainly did!

MIKE CHILDS

—> Official Website {link}

—> Production scrapbook {link}

—>Guardian review {link}

—> Jane Campion interview {link}

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