Bright Star Is a Shining Gem

John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) are separated by more than a wall.

They are as different as the prince and the pauper, the moon and the sun—yet this story of star-crossed lovers strikes a chord within the human psyche.

Their love should not be, yet we cannot stop watching.

While we know the story of young love across a constellation of bars, director and screenplay writer Jane Campion’s Bright Star gives us the perfect composition of alluring whispered words, haunting romantic music and intricate woven webs that make this film a true gem.

As we eavesdrop on the life of Frances ‘Fanny’ Brawne (Abbie Cornish) and John Keats (Ben Whishaw), we learn of the quickened pulse of heartbeats trapped behind heavy societal walls.

For starters, Fanny Brawne is a young seamstress, living on mahogany wooden dance floors or prancing among the pastel fields of flowers with her two younger siblings, Samuel ‘Sam’ Brawne (Thomas Sangster) and Margaret ‘Toots’ Brawne (Edie Martin). Fanny, who prides herself in embroidery, is the witty, vibrant eldest daughter of a widowed Mrs. Brawne (Kerry Fox).

On the other hand, John Keats is a young low-income poet residing in the crevices a darken room, lounging for the right color of words to paint his pallet of poetry. He lives with his friend Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider), an ape-like man with an equally unflattering humor, who accompanies Keats like Dr. Watson follows Sherlock Homes. Brown is Keats’ sponsor and dearest friend.

Whether it be by chance or fate, Fanny and Keats meet for poetry lessons. She easily becomes his temptress, muse and ‘bright star,’ leading him to words on the darkest of nights.

Their love blossoms under stolen kisses and whispered words in nature’s beautiful helm. Each scene is beautifully composed, like a romantic painting. Golden beams of sunlight seep into open windows and kisses dewy uncut-grass.

Moreover, the acting is superb.  Cornish delivers heart-wrenching sobs as her hands desperately grip her mother’s ruffled blouse. Martin’s blatant one-liners are typical of a tattletale younger sibling’s and are often the source of humor. Both Martin and Sangster are the dutiful younger siblings that act as their mother’s spies, trailing Cornish as she follows Whishaw across the streets and scenery of nineteenth-century London.

While it may be true that Ben Whishaw may seems awkward at times, his pallid eyes flickering from side to side, searching across the room, and Abbie Cornish’s character may seem childish and fickle, throwing irrational tantrums—their youth, their life and their love, running through the long cattail-lined paths and capturing kisses in closed bedroom doors, fuels the film even through the dismal points.

Fanny becomes his “La Dame Belle San Merci”—one of Keats’ most well known poems about a woman that lures a knight to solitude, drawing him away from freedom. Brown warns Keats that woman are dangerous; eventually, Keats will be burned out, writing poems just so he could bring income to support Brawne’s lavish clothing and lifestyle.

As it becomes more difficult to maintain their relationship through obstacles of money, tragedy and distance, the film evokes emotion. Like the characters, we feel immensely, wishing and willing for a happy ending that cannot happen. Steadfast love becomes unwavering as the sun’s eternal fire, but while the moon is wane and fickle, even the sun sets.

“I almost wished we were butterflies and lived but three summer days,” Keats’ soft voice whispers as Brawne reads his letter. “Three such days we could fill with more delight than fifty common years can ever contain.”

But while every Midsummer Night’s Dream must end, we, like butterflies, are enraptured into the three summer days, the three short years and the life and romance of a poet and his bright star.


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