Bright Star fails to shine

RANT OF THE WEEK

Period dramas inevitably appeal to a largely female audience. This possibly has to do with the pretty costumes and classic romances, and the film, Bright Star, satisfies on both accounts. It get scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design. This does not mean that a male audience cannot enjoy the latest period drama from director Jane Campion, but be warned, it certainly does appeal to the romantic senses.

The film traces a three-year period in the life of the Romantic poet, John Keats (Ben Whishaw), who is considered among the greatest talents ever to come out of England, with his contemporaries – Wordsworth, Shelley and Byron. The year is 1818 and following the failure of yet another publication of poems, Keats meets Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), a skilled and fashionable seamstress, with whom he begins a love affair. The film is based on a series of love letters between Keats and Brawne as well as the love sonnet, “Bright Star”, which Keats dedicated to Brawne.

‘Ere long, however, reality darkens the happiness of the two lovers. They are essentially involved in a love triangle, with Keats’s close friend and fellow poet, Charles Brown, jealously trying to keep the couple apart. A lover, Brown believes, will distract Keats from his writing. The couple also cannot marry because Keats is penniless and he becomes severely ill after contracting tuberculosis. It is not hard for those who aren’t familiar with history to infer that tragedy is not far off.

The film is well-crafted but almost too much so. Brawne tells Keats, “The beginning of your poem has something quite perfect”, referring to his poem, Endymion. And the film is the same – quite perfect at times but at other times simply too beautiful. The numerous scenes of fields of lavender and trees full of spring blossoms are exquisite, but they are too surreal to become immersed in. And, while Campion is a master of using silences and scenery to convey emotion, the film drags on about 20 minutes longer than it should.

Bright Star, like the Romantics, is a little melodramatic. In one scene Keats writes Brawne a letter in which he explains that he will be living in London, away from her, for a while. Brawne reacts rather severely to the news as demonstrated by the dialogue between her little sister, ‘Toots’, and their mother:
“Fanny wants a knife”, Toots says.
“What for?”, asks Mrs Brawne.
“To kill herself.”

Campion’s treatment of love is refined almost and this works well for the portrayal of a new love affair. But anyone who has ever experienced heartache knows it is raw rather than beautiful. It is only once Keats dies that Campion lets Fanny display the naked agony that heartbreak offers yet, it comes too late for the film to shine as brightly as it could have.

Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Paul Schneider
Rating: 3 out 5

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