Period pieces have been quite sensual as of late. Keira Knightly has sizzled through her corsets in films such as Atonement, The Duchess, and Pride and Prejudice, but recently it was Emily Blunt who starred as the love struck queen in The Young Victoria. A period in time that was ruled by men while the women were silent and submissive has been highlighted in film where women are portrayed as the seductive rulers of the household. Taking her place among the ranks is Abbie Cornish, who is the brightest star of Bright Star.
Forcing you to recall high school English, Bright Star is about the real-life romance between the celebrated poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw, Brideshead Revisited) and the love of his life Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish, Stop-Loss). As the film opens, we hear the famous line from Keats’ poem Endymion, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” The poem did not garner the praise it receives today, in fact, everyone hated it. Keats was a creative, poetic young man – think of the guys from your high school arts department – who literally had written himself into bankruptcy. He falls for the girl next door, Ms. Brawne, but her family cannot afford to marry her off to a poor man.
Typical of a poet, Keats thinks he isn’t worthy of Brawne or her love, so he urges her to keep it a secret. It’s quite obvious though, and a little bit ridiculous to keep something like that so secretive. The sexual tension that already exists between the two forbidden lovebirds is increased by Keats’ best friend and roommate Mr. Brown, a powerful performance by Paul Schneider (Away We Go, NBC’s Parks and Recreation), who may have feelings for both Keats and Brawne.
Abbie Cornish really shines, giving a performance that’s feisty, passionate and instantly likeable. She flirts shamelessly with every man until she settles on Keats. Then she unabashedly pours her love out on this man, only for him to constantly retract and beg her to keep it a secret. Ben Whishaw does a fine job portraying a young man of romantic ideals, but he is too flighty to really connect with. As with most period dramas, the focus is on the costumes here. It’s to the film’s advantage that Ms. Brawne is a seamstress, as the costumer went all out with every frock and hat she wears.
Jane Campion’s screenplay is painfully slow at times, and the sexual restraint that Mr. Keats and Ms. Brawne exhibit in their relationship only makes it more painful. But history has already written the ending and when Keats inevitably dies, it’s only Ms. Brawne’s passionate mourning that makes the audience care in the slightest. As the credits roll, we are treated once again to a reading of one of John Keats’ poems. There’s no denying that he was a master at his art, sadly unrecognized in his life. Listening to the poem after watching this romance unfold, obviously Ms. Brawne had more of an effect on him. Perhaps I’ve seen too many of the Keira Knightley period dramas, but I would like to think that John Keats returned Ms. Brawne’s love in reality more than what is portrayed in Bright Star.
The visuals are one of the strongest parts of the film, thanks to the brilliant cinematography by Grieg Fraser (the upcoming film Let Me In) and the costumes by Janet Patterson (The Piano). The film looks beautiful. The film is so quiet that it’s difficult to gauge whether the sound is of good quality or not. The best judgment would be by the opening and closing pieces that are played over the spoken poetry, and they sound exquisite.
Deleted Scene – The sole deleted scene on the disc is entitled “I’ll Wait” and doesn’t add anything to the story. (1:25)
Becoming Keats and Fanny Featurette – Jane Campion talks about the chemistry that the two lead actors had offscreen. (2:11)
Setting the Scene Featurette – Jane Campion talks about the sets, costumes, and poetry. (3:02)
An Inspiring Romance Featurette – Jane Campion read a biography about Keats and his relationship with Fanny Brawne and was inspired from that to write the screenplay. She was very inspired by his letters to Fanny. (2:20)
Previews – Ice Castles, The Young Victoria, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, Extraordinary Measures, St. Trinian’s, Julie & Julia, The Nora Roberts Collection, Dawson’s Creek: The Complete Series, Michael Jackson’s This Is It, An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving, The Lost and Found Family
Fans of costume dramas may find absolutely nothing wrong with Bright Star. It does have stunning costumes and beautiful cinematography. But the focus of this film is supposed to be the romance. Not just any romance, but the one who inspired John Keats, one of the world’s best romantic poets. Shouldn’t that love story make a better movie?
Sony Pictures presents Bright Star. Directed by: Jane Campion. Starring: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider. Written by: Jane Campion. Running time: 119 minutes. Rating: PG. Released on DVD: January 26, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw