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 (1819)
Okay, so here’s the deal: If you like/understand/are intrigued by the above poem, appreciate romantic poetry, or consider yourself a hapless or hopeless romantic, then you’ll probably enjoy this film. If you went – “huh?” or “duh” or “whatever”, then chances are you’ll want to skip it regardless of the reviews.
Bright Star is a romantic drama based on the intense, yet ill-fated love affair between 19th Century romantic poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his muse, the intriguing seamstress-next-door, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). It’s a romance that proved greatly inhibited by the financial and social boundaries that defined their times. The film is rated PG, so you can probably guess that there’s no big screen consummation of their affair. Just a collection of glances, soft touches and love letters that evoke the passion – both realized and unfulfilled – between these star-crossed lovers. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by revealing that Keats died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 25. So there’s no happily-ever-after here.
The movie is beautifully shot – full of vibrant colors and sweeping landscapes that appeal to the inner poet in all of us (kudos to cinematographer Greig Fraser). Writer/director Jane Campion (The Piano) succeeds in bringing a little known, yet poignant love story to the big screen, but there’s definitely something missing. I’m not even sure what it is — that special ingredient that transforms an okay romantic drama into an unforgettable romantic drama. This one’s just okay.
There is some fine ensemble acting in Bright Star (particularly from Paul Schneider as Keats’ best friend and fellow poet, Charles Armitage Brown and from young Edie Martin as Brawne’s little sister, Toots). It could even garner an Oscar nod or two (as epic period pieces tend to do), but I will be most surprised if it breaks into the mainstream with any real success. The film moves rather slowly and quietly (some might say, boringly) and the very authentic British and Scottish accents can frustrate the untrained ear (i.e. mine). Needless to say, I probably missed a fair amount of dialogue.
Now, read the poem again. If you like it, consider adding Bright Star to your Netflix queue, or waiting for a review from Arty Chick. I don’t think it will be in theaters very long after its September 18th (limited) release date – not when it has to compete with a slew of other Oscar contenders and the likes of George Clooney and Matt Damon.