Movie Review: Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

~John Keats

John Keats is one of my favourite poets, so of course I had to watch Bright Star, the Jane Campion’s film about his love story with his muse Fanny Brawne. I didn’t know what to expect, apart from a tragic ending, but what I got was a charming, if sad movie, that, however, lacks that something to make it a true masterpiece.

Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), with her wit and her needle, captures the attention of Keats (Ben Wishaw) straight away. Fanny is a sort of aspiring fashion designer, always creating something new and beautiful with her needle (the clothes she wears in the movie, which I was actually surprised to like as I find Regency fashion terrible, are said to be her own elegant and elaborate creations). When Keats brother dies, she stitches a beautifully cushion for his grave, touching the poet deeply. But Fanny is also unafraid to speak her mind. After their first meeting, she’s intrigued enough to dispatch her sister to buy his book, wanting to see for herself if he’s a genius or a fool, and then, doesn’t hesitate to tell Keats she didn’t thoroughly enjoyed it.

Of course, love blossoms, but the path of true love never runs smoothly, especially when, like Keats, you’re too poor to marry. But that’s not the only thing that keeps them apart. Charles Brown, Keats’ best friend, rather than supporting the budding relationship of the poet, is painfully jealous of Fanny, and quite cruel to her. And then, of course, there’s Keats’ illness. There’s no happy ending for this couple, and yet they remain faithful and steadfast till the end. The devotion they have for each other is very touching, and what real love is all about.

However, Bright Star doesn’t have much of a plot. Instead, it’s more of a visual poem. Each scene features beautiful costumes, settings, music, and an emotional atmosphere. I especially loved the scene were the bedroom was filled with butterflies, all flying around in the small space. Absolutely stunning. The acting too was great. Both the leads and the supporting characters did a wonderful job with their characters and there was a nice chemistry between Cornish and Wishaw. Wishaw’s portrayal of Keats and his conflicting feelings, torn between his love for his art and that for Fanny, was particularly touching and convincing.

Bright Star is not your conventional love story. It’s a story of love and loss, poignant and emotional. It almost looks like an adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s works, but with no unexpected inheritance or a long-awaited marriage to put everything right. Yet, the slow plot and minimal dialogue can’t help but disappoint quite a few people. Does Bright Star make up in imagery and poignancy what it lacks in storyline? That’s up to you to decided. It almost did for me.

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