Bright Star review
Movie reviews: Bright Star (2009) is a romantic costume drama following the tragic love affair between John Keats, one of Britain’s best loved romantic poets, and Fanny Brawne.
John Keats (Ben Whishaw) moves in with his poet friend Charles Brown (Paul Schneider) at the newly built Wentworth Place, just on the edge of Hampstead Heath. This is when he meets Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), an acquaintance of Charles, and their intense love affair begins.
Abbie is a budding fashion designer, spending all of her time sewing and wearing the latest fashions. While at a party, she proudly announces to Keats, “This is the first frock in all of Woolwich or Hampstead to have a triple-pleated mushroom collar.”
Fanny and Charles Brown have a relationship of jest and banter, each constantly teasing the other about their choice of creative pursuits. Fanny admits to knowing nothing about poetry, claiming that poems “puff smoke, dissolve, leaving nothing but irritation.” In return, Charles claims that Fanny “only knows how to flirt and sew.”
But upon meeting John Keats, Fanny sends her younger brother and sister to the bookshop to buy her a copy of Keats’ Endymion, her sister telling the book seller that “My sister has met the author, and she wants to read it for herself to see if he is an idiot or not.” Upon reading the book, she sees a new side to Keats and poetry alike, claiming the opening to be nothing short of “perfect”. For me, it was that precise moment that she fell in love with him.
A year after meeting, Charles rents part of his house to the Brawnes, bringing Fanny and John Keats even closer to one another. But the love affair is almost doomed from the beginning. Keats has no income, and is deep in debt. He sold very few books during his short lifetime, and died believing himself to be a complete failure. They keep the affair quiet, passing off time spent together as poetry lessons and simple friendship.
Their love affair is fierce and intense, able to root deep inside them with the privacy that meeting in secret offers them. It is also tightly wrapped around Keats’ poetry and his poetic mind as Fanny becomes his muse, leaving Charles to say of his latest work; “You’re so far ahead of me and above me.”
There’s something fearful and ominous about their relationship as Fanny and John Keats grow increasingly essential in each other’s lives. Fanny is by Keats’ side when his younger brother dies from tuberculosis, and stays vigil by his bed when he, himself, becomes ill. The saying that ‘the candle that burns brightest burns shortest’ was rarely truer, and despite the romantic setting of large country houses, and summer picnics by a river, there is a shadow at the edge of all this; a storm brewing.
The film offers a snapshot of the pain to come in the times that Keats is away: when Fanny’s mood is destined by whether the postman brings her a letter from him.
The storm hits with full force when Keats falls ill with tuberculosis, and is advised by his doctor to spend time in the warmer climate of Italy. Fanny begs Charles to accompany him, but he has a scandal to take care of, and so Keats leaves for Italy accompanied by a man he barely knows. As the lovers part, Keats acknowledges the harsh reality in saying; “I doubt that we will see each other again on this earth.”
When, fnally, Charles brings the news of Keats’ death, Abbie Cornish plays the pain of heartbreak with great truth; dropping to the floor, beyond words, able only to gesture towards her heart and the enormity of the pain within it. Anyone who has loved with their entire self, only to lose everything, will recognise that gesture. Fanny herself notes the cruelty of love: “We can’t be created for this kind of suffering.”
But the movie ‘Bright Star’ is not all about heartbreak, as its name suggests; the comical character of Charles Brown and his exchanges with Fanny offer some much needed relief, leaving me laughing out loud at his description of the way a poet works: “If Mr. Keats and myself are strolling in a meadow, lounging on a sofa or staring into a wall, do not presume we’re not working. Doing nothing is the musing of the poet.”
Bright Star will not be the best film you’ve seen, nor the most exciting. Yet the intesity of love affair between Keats and Fanny and the portrayal of heartbreak is so real, so relatable, that you cannot watch this film without falling in love with it. Bright Star that will stay with you long after you watch it.
One to watch alone, curled up under a blanket with only a cat for company.
Bright Star the movie is available to buy online on Blue-Ray and DVD.