*** DVD and BLU RAY Reviews ***
"Bright Star" opens with a close-up of a thread being needled - but the pull and placing of the wool is not methodical nor part of some daily Nineteenth Century drudgery - it's being done carefully - almost as if there's tenderness being sown into each cross-stitch. We then see that the seamstress is a 20-year old lady sat by a window in the early hours of the morning in her bonnet and ribbons - she is Fanny Brawne (beautifully played by the Australian actress Abbie Cornish). Her younger sister Toots (Edie Martin) then wakes up in the bed nearby and sighs at Fanny - Toots may only be 6, but she knows exactly who all the 'just so' work is for...
Jane Campion's 2009 re-telling of the mercurial love affair between the struggling English romantic poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne has been accused by scholars and purists as being historically inaccurate and frankly hogwash. But I feel this is to miss the point. This is a movie - and some artistic allowance is to be expected. But more importantly, Campion absolutely makes it work - and for the whole journey too. You care about these idealistic people - you are enthralled by their short but oh so sweet shot at happiness - and Fanny's destruction at her soulmate's loss is one of the most powerful scenes committed to celluloid in decades.
The setting is Hampstead Village, London in 1818 - and Greig Fraser's Cinematography puts huge amounts of detail on screen. This is a world of Inky Quills, Scullery Maids and Pantaloons - where men smoke cigars, gulp brandy and sing chummy Acapella songs for the gathered Ladies and Gentlemen at society parties. A triple-pleated mushroom collar is a clothing advance and a man who is dying of consumption (Keats' brother) is described as 'diminished'.
Words are all in this society and Campion's script revels in it. Keats' poems "Endymion", "Bright Star" and "When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be" are all quoted - and the dialogue inbetween is just as elegant and insightful. But of course the movie lives and dies on the dance of love between Cornish and Whishaw - and that courtship and deepening of feeling features so many great moments... a look she gives Keats in the woods as they walk and exchange ideas, her reaction to Tom's death - create something of beauty to remember him by - an embroidered pillow case that she sat up all night making - her feet curling on a bed as she devours one of Keats love letters - her tender kisses on the paper as she posts her reply... It could all have been so terribly corny, but both the actors and the script give it life and a genuine beating heart. Mark Bradshaw's music is also used sparingly and with great effect - and when it isn't there - the silence engenders a terrible feeling of foreboding (sickness, death).
Special mention should also go to Paul Schneider who is exceptional as the arrogant and obsessive Mr. Brown - supposed friend and fellow accomplice in poetry with Keats. Brown does everything to thwart the burgeoning romance between Keats and Brawne - feeling her a distraction from their lofty writing and a danger to Keats' frail talent - even coveting her as his own. His vehemence forces Keats to step up to the plate and Fanny is well able for him. The core 3 actors here are fabulous together. Special mention should also go to Kerry Fox as Fanny's practical mother and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Liam Neeson's son in "Love Actually") as her younger brother Samuel - also quietly superb.
The extras include (a) Working With Jane Campion Documentary (b) Behind The Scenes Featurette (c) Deleted Scenes (d) Photo Gallery and (e) Trailer
The lone subtitle is 'English For The Hearing Impaired'. My only real gripe is that it's not on BLU RAY - a format that would surely make this beauty shine like a diamond (due in 2011 apparently).
Campion and her exceptionally talented cast are to be congratulated - "Bright Star" is a literate, sensual, beautifully staged and gushingly romantic tale - and proud of it.
They did a great job and I for one was deeply moved...
PS: the BLU RAY Issue...
As you can see from the photo provided by Amazon - this appears to be a GERMAN issue on BLU RAY - but the copy I received this morning (Dec 2011) is in fact a FRENCH Pathe issue with that language used for all over the cover artwork.
There are 2 audio tracks - 'both' FRENCH and ENGLISH DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. It is obviously defaulted to play in French when you start the disc, but a simple flick of the audio button brings in the English version. The extras on the DVD (including the "Working With..." making of) are all intact - but there are also some totally unrelated Australian Black & White shorts tagged on (God knows why).
But the big news is the picture improvement - which at times is simply breathtaking. The outdoor Hampstead scenes, Fanny sowing her garments in her home, Keats lying on top of a tree with its flowering buds beneath him, Fanny walking through a field of bluebells, the child Toots and the cat Topper in Fanny's room full of butterflies, the intricate costumes - so many things and scenes are improved - and beautifully so.
A gorgeous film made better by BLU RAY. Seek it out in this form.
[SPOILER WARNING - THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]
I am 'a fan' of John Keats (if a dead Romantic poet can have fans!) and have recently purchased the Andrew Motion biography, which I am planning to start reading soon. I had heard of 'Bright Star' but I knew very little about it - I was completely unware, for instance, that it had been written and directed by Jane Campion. I was prepared for one of those 'period drama' style biopics, you know the kind of rather dull fare that the BBC and ITV churn out on a regular basis. Two people, both readers of Keats, had given me opposite reports so I really didn't know what to expect. Well actually, I was mainly prepared to be disappointed.
Well, it's good to be wrong sometimes. Because I absolutely loved this film.
When I realised from the opening titles that Jane Campion was behind it, my hopes were raised. I immediately thought that Abby Cornish' Fanny was superb; she reminded me of Nicole Kidman with a bit of Charlize Theron (fortunately, the latter only in terms of looks and not acting). Fanny is not a boring two dimensional damsel in distress type: she is a girl determined to get her man! Keats is played by Ben Whishaw and I must confess that in the first few scenes I had my reservations about him; he looked a bit like someone out of an indie band (especially the hair). A bit too 'hipster-like'. However within thirty minutes into the film I was totally won over by his portrayal of the poet. The acting was superb; what really, really stands out in this film is the fact that both Whinshaw and Cornish recite lines of Keats' poetry at various points but it never sounds 'hammy'. Poetry readings, even by professional actors, can often verge on the melodramatic - listen to the many audio versions of Keats' most famous works and you'll probably find parts of them slightly ridiculous. But Whinshaw just makes the poetry flow out of him so naturally that you don't even question it. In fact, I recommend that you watch the DVD right until the very end of the credits, because when the end music finishes you'll be treated to his reading of 'Ode to a Nightingale'. I am going to look for the soundtrack of this film so that I can play that very reading over and over again.
The cinematography is absolutely stunning - this film is filmed as beautifully as a Keats poem itself and avoids the usual cliches' of period drama. It's never sickly sweet; in fact, Cornish's performance is rather restrained - which is why she reminds me so much of Nicole Kidman. You know that a lot is going on behind the ice and eventually it melts and pours out, in one of the final scenes when Fanny finds out about Keats' death.
What I also didn't realise until the final credits is that the film was based on Andrew Motion's book and Motion himself worked with Campion during the making of the film. So what I thought would be one of those watered down, 'liberal' adaptations of the life of a poet was actually an accurate portrayal, albeit a partial one which only focussed on the last two years of his life.
What else can I add except for the fact that this is a truly stunning piece of work, with a superb cast who could not have done a better job at portraying the doomed love between Fanny and Keats. I will most certainly watch this film again.
on 1 April 2012
I watched this film recently on BBC iPlayer; I am quite fond of period films, and though I don't normally seek out tragedies or romantic films I decided to give this one a go - for the time period it was in and for not knowing much about Keats. They described the film as a film on the love affair between John Keats and Francis Braune, battling against poverty and illness.
I did not know much of the subject matter before watching this movie, I'd read a few of Keats's poems in school (as most of us no doubt have) but I didn't even know of his early death or his romance with Fanny Braune.
I fully recommend this movie to romance and period film lovers, though be warned as the tragedy comes to it's end there may be tears.
This film captured my heart. I find most modern 21st Cent. romance films to be cheesy/corny, and frankly boring & not worth a re-watch, but in Bright Star the romance was one which most of us would dream of and yet shy away from (so powerful that a few words from that person could make you swoon or feel like dying). The music which drifted through occasionally was well thought out, and the innocence of their relationship portrayed by their ever so gentle and secret first kiss was magical. Although to many people it may not seem as if much is happening in this film, and perhaps they were expecting a more passionate relationship and hearts flying everywhere, but this is a film is focused upon two young people being drawn to one another, becoming soul mates, both unique (a seamstress and a poet) and their battles with love.
I also love the way the actor and actress portrayed their characters with Miss Braune being so innocent like at times, with a touch of flirting with Keats, yet very opinionated and curious; and John Keats being a rather scruffy poet but still becoming in his repeated outfit, being the one to fight against the blossoming love for Miss Braune's sake (due to his poverty), and he is so poetic at times that I could not tell if he was quoting again or just explaining points in a fantastical way.
The main points that we can go away with are explained in words at the very end of the film.
There were minor background parts of this film which lost me a little. But afterwards I started googling, mostly as I didn't want it to be over so soon, and found out more about Miss Francis Braune & Mr John Keats, and their connections. *
I imagine it would be hard to fully understand the background of the movie and characters without some knowledge of the life of John Keats, but for the main focus of the love affair it doesn't fail to be heart rendering and is never hard to follow. It is now undoubtedly my favourite romance film, though tragic.
For example how the family knows of Keats and speak of him with regard before they have all met him (e.g. with the touch of Fanny checking her appearance before delivering him the cup of tea), I found out later that the family had often conversed about him, and knew him well through gossip and such with other associates.
Or how Brown is so against Miss Braune in the movie - naming her a flirt and tease - exaggerating her flirtations to be a trap and making John Keats suspicious of her (unless curt remarks can be considered flirtations), later googling showed that real accounts recorded by Keats' friends stated they considered her so and as a distraction for his work (a threat to his way of life is how Brown must have seen her), and also the little spat between Keats and Brown must have been intended to show Keats' sometimes jealous nature recorded in his later correspondence with Miss Braune.
The part with the butterflies was sweet, although they looked a little exotic for England (too pretty though for that to be an annoyance to me!), and their deaths were very well timed with the Fanny's distraught nature at a later letter she received.
Also though they didn't mention the cause for travel to Italy much in the movie, I found it was to avoid the winter for the warm weather further south and their medicine, which the doctor thought might have aided his ill health toward the end.
on 8 February 2010
Such a good film on so many levels.
A heartbeaking love story. Prepare to shed some tears.
A beautiful film to look at, Jane Campion doesn't put a foot wrong. It looks authentic and avoids the usual BBC period drama feel.
Great casting and of course superb acting.
I saw this in France and nobody in the audience moved until the lights came up.
If you buy one dvd this week make sure its this one.
on 10 February 2011
This is one of the most beautiful and profoundly captivating films you will see. Some reviewers have complained about it being vacuous and lacking in substance. As with any film, you have to infer the substance, or feel its substance in your interpretation. Its crushing weight can be found in its portrayal of intense love, the absurd complications life introduces that prevent their love from life-long expression, and the grief that follows. The film captures Keats' and Fanny's love like a butterfly in a net and then releases it into your viewing mind. The acting was poignant, especially at the end, where Fanny's grief was portrayed in a way intense enough to cut you to pieces. It will make you feel as stricken and pained as if she was in the room. The tenderness of the characters is visible through action over dialogue, and you glimpse the moments of beauty that embody their love to them. The film was shot with the eyes of a poet, and throughout Keats' and Fanny's perspectives intertwine to create that atmosphere unique to the lovers. At the end, you'll end up almost believing the voice reciting Keats' poetry really did belong to Keats. And what's more, the beauty won't fade the next time you watch it, or the next time, or the time after that.
on 25 March 2014
This drama looks good, and everyone does what is required of them, but I can't escape the fact that Ben Whishaw is so physically unlike John Keats - famously small and pugnacious with it - that it jars to see him portrayed this way.
John Keats's life, short and packed with real incidents and tragedies, is fascinating, and I'd like to see that dramatised.
I don't think this does Keats or Fanny Brawne justice, really, even though Ben Whishaw reads the verse beautifully. One whose life was "writ in water" deserves more.
on 14 August 2010
I couldn't help but be a little disappointed by this. There's no denying that it's a visual feast - Greig Fraser's cinematography and Janet Patterson's production design create an utterly believeable world - at once suffused with the drowsy vision of keats, the squalor of Regency London and the domestic spaces of women and children. However, it fails to conjure much sympathy for its central characters; it's had to work out what precisely Fanny Brawne is supposed to find so interesting about Keats and whilst she begins the film as an independent, renaissance-woman in the making, half-way through the film she's rolling about the floor in a room full of butterflies.
The dramatic tension between Keats' doomed dedication to poetry, his love for Fanny and the practical need to make money - and hence be able to marry - is hinted at but not explored with any depth, Similarly, the world of the film is essentially middle-class - Keats was the son of a bar man and probably spoke with a broad cockney accent - here he comes across like a grammar-school drop out.
Campion lets everything unfold quietly, creating a film of great poise and meditative calm - it's a shame that it's a little lacking in substance.
on 10 February 2013
Absolutely beautiful film, the scenery is breath-taking, the acting is really good and it made for a lovely evening's entertainment.
on 31 December 2009
Would it have been less romantic for director Jane Campion to acknowledge in her film that the poet John Keats (1795-1821) frequented brothels before he met Fanny Brawne (some biographers suggest he continued using prostitutes whilst courting her), that Brawne did in fact marry another after the poet died, or that Keats - in contrast to the sublime gorgeousness of Ben Whishaw - apparently suffered from acne?
We know very little about Fanny Brawne (1800-1865) - apart from the fact that she was an 18-year old seamstress living with her widowed mother near to Keats in Hampstead village when they met. We know much more about the poet and, on the basis of this film, it is hard to imagine him developing his famous aesthetic theory of negative capability: Keats is likely, I think, to have been much more intellectual and traditionally contemplative than represented in Campion's script and registered in Whishaw's performance. Nevertheless, Whishaw - who has something of the delicate frame of Keats, if not his reddish hair - is excellent at embodying intense inwardness here and his performance in the only kissing scene was very good.
It's not strictly true that, as Campion writes before the credits, "Keats died...believing himself to be a failure." A good two years before his death, he wrote to his brother George in America that "I believe I shall be among the English Poets after my death." Some biographers also conjecture that the famous epitaph that Keats wished to have on his gravestone a the Protestant Cemetery in Rome - 'Here lies one whose name is writ in water' - was chosen to excite attention as well as to reflect his fear of not having achieved lasting fame. Campion avoids concentrating too much on the excoriatingly bad reviews that his poetry received in his lifetime and which seemed to injure him in autumn 1818 (many of Keats's friends and acquiantances - including Charles Brown and Shelley - took them to be a contributory cause of his early death), although she does suggest that his books initially sold poorly.
We see the infatuation mainly from Fanny's eyes; Abbie Cornish fills in the gaps about her very well - especially in her minxy behaviour towards the domineering Brown and in the beautiful butterfly scene where she languishes in bed with an array of butterflies fluttering vividly around her hot room. The ever-smiling Edie Martin who plays Fanny's sister Toots was magnificent, as was the director's cat who demonstrated brilliant comic timing. Some may want to excuse the poetic untruths, the stop-start pace and the film's excessive length because Bright Star is simply beautifully shot and generally very well-acted (the Scottish accent of US actor Paul Schneider was spot-on and Kerry Fox was also very good as Fanny's mother). Others may find that the chemistry between the two lovers is lacking and that their emotional connection does not come across strongly enough.
In contrast to other films on authors like Christine Jeffs's Sylvia, Bright Star does not neglect the author's work and Whishaw provides a sensitive reading of Ode to a Nightingale (1819) as the credits roll.
DVD extras include: a 25 min 'Working with Jane' featurette, behind the scenes footage, 2 deleted scenes, the original trailer and a photo gallery. (3.5 stars)
on 30 April 2010
No film has the quality of depth, truth and heartfelt simplicity as Jane Campion movie. What Jane Campion brings to the screen is a way of experiencing life that has almost gone lost in this day and age; a slowness and a way of experiencing every moment to the fullest extend and be allowed to sink into the understanding of words never spoken together with the full meaning of potent words spoken with earnest feelings.
As in the Piano, every scene is a picture of poetry in itself and it is an eye delight to watch every scene in this completely delightful moving and dramatic romance.
Fanny Brawne is an accomplished artist herself with her needle and thread, and as Keats produces his lovely loving and anguished poems, she in her way crates little masterpieces of clothing for herself which depicts her changing moods compellingly.
Go for it it is a gem of a film, a bright 6 star movie - Far surpassing most of the movies made to portrait the artists of the age and this particular period of age generally, because this is a small believable peephole into the life and love of Keats and an eyeopener to Keats genius for those not already in love with and familiar with his poems.
I totally loved it and will enjoy seeing it again and again in the future for the sheer joy of Campions talent and the brilliant actors going all the way to show us their capacity for feeling and being true to what they felt portraying John keats and Fanny Brawne. I believed in it.