Bright Star trailer (Jane Campion)

One Response to “Bright Star trailer (Jane Campion)”

  1. September 16, 2009
    Keats and His Beloved in an Ode to Hot English Chastity

    By A. O. SCOTT
    Published: September 16, 2009

    John Keats was a Romantic poet. “Bright Star,” which tells the tale of Keats and Fanny Brawne, the love of his short life, is a romantic movie. The vernacular of popular culture and the somewhat specialized language of literary history assign different meanings to that word, but the achievement of Jane Campion’s learned and ravishing new film is to fuse them, to trace the comminglings and collisions of poetic creation and amatory passion.

    This is a risky project, not least because a bog of cliché and fallacy lies between the filmmaker and her goal. In the first decades of the 19th century, some poets may have been like movie stars, but the lives of the poets have been, in general, badly served on film, either neglected altogether or puffed up with sentiment and solemnity. The Regency period, moreover, serves too many lazy, prestige-minded directors as a convenient vintage clothing store. And there are times in “Bright Star” when Keats, played by the pale and skinny British actor Ben Whishaw (“Perfume,” “I’m Not There”), trembles on the edge of caricature. He broods; he coughs (signaling the tuberculosis that will soon kill him); he looks dreamily at flowers and trees and rocks.

    But these moments, rather than feeling studied or obvious, arrive with startling keenness and disarming beauty, much in the way that Keats’s own lyrics do. His verses can at first seem ornate and sentimental, but on repeated readings, they have a way of gaining in force and freshness. The music is so intricate and artificial, even as the emotions it carries seem natural and spontaneous. And while no film can hope to take you inside the process by which these poems were made, Ms. Campion allows you to hear them spoken aloud as if for the first time. You will want to stay until the very last bit of the end credits, not necessarily to read the name of each gaffer and grip, but rather to savor every syllable of Mr. Whishaw’s recitation of “Ode to a Nightingale.”

    Keats’s genius — underestimated by many of the critics of his time, championed by a loyal coterie of literary friends — is the fixed point around which “Bright Star” orbits. Its animating force, however, is the infatuation that envelops Keats and Brawne in their early meetings and grows, over the subsequent months, into a sustaining and tormenting love. Mr. Keats, as his lover decorously calls him, is diffident and uneasy at times, but also witty, sly and steadfast. The movie really belongs to Brawne, played with mesmerizing vitality and heart-stopping grace by Abbie Cornish.

    Ms. Cornish, an Australian actress whose previous films include “Stop-Loss,” “Candy” and “Somersault,” has, at 27, achieved a mixture of unguardedness and self-control matched by few actresses of any age or nationality. She’s as good as Kate Winslet, which is about as good as it’s possible to be.

    Fanny, the eldest daughter of a distracted widow (Kerry Fox), has some of the spirited cleverness of a Jane Austen heroine. A gifted seamstress, she prides herself on her forward-looking fashion sense and her independence. She is also vain, insecure and capable of throwing herself headlong into the apparent folly of adoring a dying and penniless poet, something no sensible Austen character would ever do.

    If it were just the poet and his beloved, “Bright Star” might collapse in swooning and sighing, or into the static rhythms of a love poem. And while there are passages of extraordinary lyricism — butterflies, fields of flowers, fluttering hands and beseeching glances — these are balanced by a rough, energetic worldliness. Lovers, like poets, may create their own realms of feeling and significance, but they do so in contention with the same reality that the rest of us inhabit.

    The film’s designated reality principle is Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), Keats’s friend, patron and collaborator and his main rival for Fanny’s attention. For Brown, Fanny is an irritant and a distraction, though the sarcastic intensity of their banter carries an interesting sexual charge of its own. In an Austen novel this friction would be resolved in matrimony, but “Bright Star,” following the crooked, shadowed path of biographical fact, has a different story to tell.

    Brown and Keats are neighbors to the Brawne brood in Hampstead in 1818, when the story begins. In April of the following year the poets are occupying one-half of a house, with Fanny and her mother and siblings on the other side of the wall. After nine months Keats, in declining health, is dispatched to Italy by a committee of concerned friends, but until then he and Fanny consummate their love in every possible way except physically.

    Ms. Campion is one of modern cinema’s great explorers of female sexuality, illuminating Sigmund Freud’s “dark continent” with skepticism, sympathy and occasional indignation. “Bright Star” could easily have become a dark, simple fable of repression, since modern audiences like nothing better than to be assured that our social order is freer and more enlightened than any that came before. But Fanny and Keats are modern too, and though the mores of their time constrain them, they nonetheless regard themselves as free.

    The film is hardly blind to the sexual hypocrisy that surrounds them. Fanny can’t marry Keats because of his poverty, but Brown blithely crosses class lines to have some fun with (and impregnate) a naïve and illiterate young household servant (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). That Fanny and Keats must sublimate their longings in letters, poems and conversations seems cruel, but they make the best of it. As does Ms. Campion: a sequence in which, fully clothed, the couple trades stanzas of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” in a half-darkened bedroom must surely count as one of the hottest sex scenes in recent cinema.

    The heat of that moment and others like it deliver “Bright Star” from the tidy prison of period costume drama. Ms. Campion, with her restless camera movements and off-center close-ups, films history in the present tense, and her wild vitality makes this movie romantic in every possible sense of the word.

    “Bright Star” is rated PG (parental guidance suggested). It is perfectly chaste and insanely sexy.

    Bright Star

    Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan. Written and directed by Jane Campion; director of photography, Greig Fraser; edited by Alexandre de Franceschi; music by Mark Bradshaw; production designer, Janet Patterson; produced by Jan Chapman and Caroline Hewitt; released by Apparition. Running time: 1 hour 59 minutes.

    WITH: Abbie Cornish (Fanny Brawne), Ben Whishaw (John Keats), Paul Schneider (Mr. Brown), Antonia Campbell- Hughes (Abigail O’Donaghue) and Kerry Fox (Mrs. Brawne).


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