Add Jane Campion's rich, sensuous, quietly thrilling Bright Star
to the very short list of admirable films about writers. In this case the writer is John Keats (Ben Whishaw), the Romantic poet who died at age 25 believing himself a failure. The movie, set during his last several years, focuses on his playful friendship with and evolving love for Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), the independent-minded young woman who lived next door in Hampstead Village and was, in her own fashion, an artistic spirit. Completing an ineffably fraught constellation--not exactly a romantic triangle--is Keats's host Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider), who loves, esteems, and regards Keats with both pride and envy, and engages in an unstated rivalry for Fanny. All three performances are superb, with Whishaw adding to his gallery of artist figures (the olfactorily obsessed murderer in Perfume
, one of the Bob Dylans in I'm Not There
), and Cornish and Schneider taking top acting honours for 2009. As in Campion's The Piano
, others are party to the central story, and they have identities, personalities, and claims to intelligence and understanding that we appreciate without having it announced in dialogue. Kerry Fox (redheaded wild girl of Campion's An Angel at My Table
nearly two decades ago) evokes Fanny's mother with a few brushstrokes, and Fanny's young sister and brother are watchful presences and de facto co-conspirators in the courtship. In addition, Bright Star
is the rare period movie to convey--without being insistent--what it was like to be alive in another era, the nature of houses and rooms and how people occupied them, the way windows linked spaces and enlarged people's lives and experiences, how fires warmed as the milky English sunlight did not. And always there is an aliveness to place and weather, the creak of boardwalk underfoot and the wind rustling the reeds as lovers walk through a wetland. Poetry grows from such things; at least, Jane Campion's does. --Richard T. Jameson, Amazon.com
Drama written and directed by the Oscar-winning Jane Campion about the relationship between 19th century poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and fashion student Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Their romance begins slowly but soon the young couple's feelings intensify as Fanny helps John care for his sick younger brother and John then agrees to teach Fanny about poetry. Fanny's mother (Kerry Fox) and John's best friend, Charles (Paul Schneider), both unhappy with the relationship for their own reasons, are unable to stop them growing closer to each other. Tragedy, however, lurks on the horizon.