Tuesday 9 November 2010

Bright Star

, This post was originally posted on 7th November, 2009.

Last night, we went to watch Jane Campion’s luscious Bright Star, the story of the doomed relationship between John Keats (played by Ben Whishaw) and his muse, Fanny Brawne (played by Abbie Cornish). The film, which is made of hundreds of perfectly framed and composed pictures, is a stunning visual treat that captures the details of the period (the movie begins in 1818 and covers a few years until Keats’s death). Campion’s recreation of the time is authentic but never overdone; it has a lived-in feel that other period dramas do not. The characters inhabit the exteriors and interiors naturally. They gather in their dark kitchen and linger comfortably in the Heath and fields beyond their house.

Apart from this natural recreation of the time, Campion also manages to incorporate Keats’s poetry into the movie in an effective and believable way. Many literary bio-pics cannot quite mesh the need to include the writers’ words and the need to tell a story in moving pictures. In Bright Star, Campion skillfully overcomes this problem. The scenes, for example, in which Keats and Brawne show their love for each other by alternately quoting sections of Keats’s poems, are beautiful.

Certainly, part of the effectiveness of these moments is due to the actors themselves. Ben Whishaw gives a nice turn as the distracted and tubercular Keats; and Abbie Cornish is captivating as the emotional and dramatic Brawne. She capably portrays the youthfulness and heightened sensitivity of a young girl hopelessly in love. In one scene, she’s ready to kill herself just because Keats sends her a shorter letter than normal. It’s both hilarious and affecting. Everyone else in the picture is good, especially Paul Schneider who plays Keats’s self-loathing Scottish friend, Charles Armitage Brown. I also want to mention Edie Martin as Brawne’s younger sister, Toots. She is very natural and likable.

The movie was perhaps a little over long. But Campion’s skill and vision shines through. Unlike many movies which I forget as soon as I leave the cinema, Bright Star had a number of scenes which I think will stick with me for a long while. There is a beautiful moment in which Keats and Brawne are walking behind Toots who is acting as a kind of young chaperon. When Toots is not looking, the loving young couple engages in affectionate kissing. But when she turns her head to check on them, the couple freeze in silly or coy positions. During this game of statue, the footage seems to divide in two: Toots and the rest of the images on the screen remain in motion but the leads seem to be presented in freeze frame; a suggestion that their love is so engrossing that for them time has stopped. So much is said in this speechless sequence.

Also, a scene in which Brawne drunk on Keats’s recent love letters starts a butterfly farm in her room is simply stunning. I don’t think I have ever seen an image like it before.

I greatly enjoyed Whishaw’s recitation of “Ode to a Nightingale” played over the closing credits. Most of the audience stayed to listen to the poem. I, too, froze on my seat to listen to each syllable, word, and line.

Leaving the theater, I thought that Bright Star was a very bright star indeed.
See another post about Bright Star here.

6 Responses “Bright Star” →

November 8, 2009
I completely understand why you liked the film. There is so much to like. For me, though, it didn’t have nearly enough tension or narrative drive to sustain and become something great. The stakes weren’t high enough. The romance not uncertain enough…

November 8, 2009
Beautiful! I wonder what the ‘shorter than normal’ letter looked like. It’s so incredible that Brawne counted the tint of passion in every single words of Keats’s letters.

November 8, 2009
Oh Brawne is just being silly. She needs lots of attention from the man she loves — can’t settle for less.

November 15, 2009
hey tammy, funny thing. i had thought it was YOU in such a beautiful pic until i saw the poster of the film!

November 15, 2009

February 7, 2010
Now I really want to see it! Well written as always.

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