When: Saturday, 26 December - Wednesday, 20 January
Where: Various cinemas
There's a moment in Jane Campion's (The Piano, In the Cut) latest film Bright Star, wherein Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) lays on the bed, light streaming through the window, a summer breeze gently rushing up her long voluminous skirt. The camera lingers almost a little too long, and one is left feeling slightly dizzy from Fanny's romantic and rather chaste, adolescent longing. It's a nice summation of the relationship that carries the film.
Written and directed by Campion, Bright Star tells the too-short story of an all enveloping love found between the eighteen year old Fanny and her penniless poet and neighbour, John Keats (Ben Wishaw). We know Keats today as one of the foremost of the literary Romantics, a renowned and beloved poet, but as the film unfurls in the 1818 Regency period in England, Keats is, at twenty-three, receiving ill reviews for his work, slaving away in dire shabbiness. As much, however, as Keats or the idea of him is found lingering in every frame, this is the film of Fanny, eldest sister to a younger brother and sister, and daughter to a widowed mother (Kerry Fox). Strong-willed and creative though her love and talent with dress design, Fanny is immediately drawn to Keats and his slightly brooding, troubled artist persona.
Their romance takes a long time to take hold, and continues to burn slowly throughout the film, as it did in life. Likewise, it is constantly fraught with danger, threatening to be unhinged by Keats' best friend and writing partner, Brown (the excellent Paul Schneider) and the underlying knowledge that Keats' financial situation does not allow him to pursue Fanny in a respectable fashion. Though Fanny speaks of and defends the importance of amusement, she is a muse to Keats, whose writing flourishes when she is near. Brown, who occupies some of the best scenes, mistakes Fanny's ardent distaste for him as flirty banter, and seeks to both elevate the work of his friend whom he sees (rightfully) as a genius and keep him confined, but is ultimately unable to do so.
A languid tale of love and intimacy found within inspiration and affection, it unfolds slowly and beautifully, much like Keats' very prose, and Fanny's burgeoning feminine sexuality (a common thread throughout many of Campion's films). The new, suffocatingly tender feelings of romance are tempered by formal restraint. Kerry Fox as Fanny's mother is both nervous and understanding, knowing of the relationship that is building and its slim chance of survival. Keats, as history states, died criminally young for such a tremendous talent, aged just twenty five.
Equal parts a lovely daydream and heaving, lovelorn sobs, Bright Star is something of an intimate masterpiece. Though there seems too few scenes of Fanny and John alone together — at least, enough for the viewer to be able to understand the devastating gravity of their feelings as written in their letters — it's a sad thing to realise that their time together was actually that scant, away from prying, concerned eyes.
As if pulled from the very poem the film is named for, Bright Star is almost "in lone splendour" at the tail end of the year's cinematic releases. The only other film to capture the life and habits of an artist so accurately in recent years was the French film Seraphine from earlier in 2009, both with their moments of ecstasy and tragedy. With Bright Star, it is that rather precise ratio and the combined talent of Wishaw and Cornish, that makes the film such a lingering, resonant delight.
By Kate Jinx
Will You Be Attending?