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BRIGHT STAR

Director: JANE CAMPION

U.K.-AUSTRALIA-FRANCE • 2009 COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 35MM • 119 MIN


JANE CAMPION (THE PIANO) RETURNS WITH ONE OF HER FINEST FILMS, A DELICATE YET SWOONSOME RENDITION OF THE UNREQUITED AFFECTIONS BETWEEN ILL-FATED POET JOHN KEATS AND HIS TRUE LOVE, FANNY BRAWNE.

Fanny was, literally, the girl next door, as Keats (Ben Whishaw) occupied one half of a Hampstead house let by a cash-poor widow (Kerry Fox) who lived there with her three daughters
— Fanny (Abbie Cornish) being the eldest. As looks and smiles develop into a deeper bond, the proximity which facilitates their relationship also proves their undoing. Given the family’s precarious situation, Mrs. Brawn seeks financial security for her girls, and the impecunious poet (whose work, incidentally, is trashed by the literary critics of the day) simply does not fit the bill. The doomed romance though, is to elevate her experience from the humdrum rituals of early nineteenth-century domesticity and — crucially for us — inspire Keats to write some of his greatest poems.

Campion’s work here is a marvel of subtlety, shading the emotions through the passing seasons reflected in natural light, and slipping Keats’ writing into the storytelling in a way which registers its beauty yet never treats it with schoolmistressy over-reverence. As the equally startling Whishaw and Cornish’s in-the-moment performances remind us, it’s the immediacy of the human feelings which are the stuff of poetry rather than the other way round, and Campion’s camera-eye allows us to live and breathe it with them. ‘She cannot fade,’ Keats wrote, ‘though thou hast not thy bliss/For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!’ Sighs all round. — Trevor Johnston.

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