Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Paul Schneider
A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; It will never pass into nothingness.
Do you like poetry? Fanny Brawne (Cornish) thinks she might. At least, she wants to. She has a bit of thing, you see, for a poet: John Keats (Whishaw), a young late Romantic who has stolen her heart. Capturing their three-year affair, Campion’s Bright Star is a loving and literary creation.
There’s not much to go on, save for a few letters sent between the two – and many of those have been destroyed. But pulled together, these scant, private details make for a close, personal account of their relationship before Keats died of tuberculosis in 1821.
Moving in with fellow writer and friend Charles Brown (Schneider), Keats cuts a frail figure in Hampstead. Thin, feeble and rather pale, Ben Whishaw is a perfect portrait of the artist, consumed with passion and soon to be struck down by illness. Torn between nature and his human desires, every twitch adds more depth to his already tactile turn. He’s gentle, he’s witty, he’s preoccupied by poetry; it’s easy to see why Fanny falls for him.
An independent minded woman, who styles her own clothes, Fanny is easy to engage with. Cornish effortlessly clicks with Whishaw's Keats too; their chemistry is instantly captivating and heartbreaking. Telling events from her perspective, Campion’s screenplay wisely sides with the frustrated and forlorn lover, opening up their emotions for a modern audience. Neither a biopic nor simple period drama, Campion allows their romance to gradually grow despite society’s constraints.
Gradually is the key word: suffused in subtle imagery and beautifully lit landscapes, Bright Star is in no hurry to part its central pair. Instead, we linger on as their affection increases, but is never consummated - Schneider's solid support as Keats' self-appointed minder helps counter the meandering middle, despite the dodgy Scottish accent. Reserved and strained, their partnership is the foster-child of silence and slow time. That may turn off many, but if Bright Star makes one more person connect with Keats’ work, it’s a pace worth setting. Just be sure to stay for the end credits – set to Mark Bradshaw’s gentle score, it’s a sublime chance to sit and hear Whishaw recite Ode to a Nightingale.
Languorous and lyrical, Bright Star is an accomplished and affecting film. A thing of beauty.
Want more Whishaw? We chatted to him at the London Film Festival - here's what he had to say.
- abbie cornish
- ben whishaw
- bright star
- fanny brawne
- jane campion