Bright Star

A hushed Keats affair gets a lush and eloquent once-over

Sep 30, 2009 at 12:00 am

John Keats was arguably the greatest poet of the 19th century romantic movement, but he wasn't exactly lucky in love. A swooning and romantic period weeper where nary a bodice is ripped, Bright Star gushes with submerged passions and longing, yet this most epic of doomed romances is told in such a precise style it may leave some viewers cold as English frost.

Ben Whishaw plays Keats, a wispy deep thinker with bedroom eyes and poetry in his soul, and Abbie Cornish is Fanny Brawne, the young lady who inspired all that artistry. Their love notes form the backbone of Jane Campion's intellectual exercise, which shines brightest when it gets beyond its historical grandeur and down to true, messy intimacy.   

In the familiar story told about great artists, Keats lived in squalor most of his life, getting by on the kindness of friends. One of those, Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), invites him to live at his Hampstead estate, where he hopes the scenery will inspire even greater poetry, but what really stokes Keats' imagination is the lovely young seamstress down the hall. 

But when the frail Keats develops a nasty cough, we know where this is heading. He doesn't have time, but he does have words, oceans of them, enough to drench his lover in perfumed eloquence. Fanny is confounded at first — she wouldn't know an iambic pentameter from a ruler — but is soon overwhelmed. As intense as their attraction is, matters of society and decorum keep pushing them apart. 

Gloriously shot by Grieg Fraser, the film's loaded with lush, rolling heaths and flickering candles, but is so immaculate it nearly ODs on taste. 

Whishaw makes a fine, dreamy goth hero, but Cornish positively glows, all alabaster purity and simmering lust. Her grace keeps the film from completely slipping into gloom. Paul Schneider struggles to keep the R's properly rolled in his Scottish brogue, but he makes a nice foil. As a poet, Brown fails, but through his tryst with a chambermaid, he puts feelings ahead of art, something his gifted friend is not so willing to do.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].