Bright Star (2009) (PG)

Jane Campion's "Bright Star" is a work of deep romanticism, profound silence, and heartbreaking reality. Though when it was released it was billed as a romance, it is more about the curious habits of John Keats and the stunning adoration of Fanny Brawne than it is about love.
Fanny (Abbie Cornish) is a young woman who enjoys wit more than poetry. Her tongue is sharp as is her needle. She is a seamstress, bound to the confines of what she knows and can grasp with her hands.
She meets John Keats (Ben Whishaw) through no complicated circumstance, just naturally unfolding. She walks into a room and brings him tea and the two strike up a very awkward first conversation before being interrupted.
It is obvious from their first interaction, that they will fall in love; but their love is an odd one. It's full of tears and heartache and mistrust and poems—not the stuff that dreams are made of.
John Keats is a poet and Fanny finds everything about poetry detestable: it's pretentious, complicated, and arises no emotional response from within her...and on this, Fanny and I agree.
After meeting John, she buys a book of poetry by him and finds that when she reads it, it speaks to her. Not literally of course.
The first passage of the book is very moving and on the subject of love, which Fanny finds enthralling. But then, the book looses its magic and she says this much to Keats the next time she sees him.
Still, that initial emotional response was so strong that Fanny can't help but acknowledge it.
She becomes fascinated with John and he with her. As an excuse to spend more time together, Fanny asks John to give her poetry lessons and here she starts to see the real man.
John Keats is a romantic, he's impossible to explain and not really rational at all. He is a poem of himself, that is to say: he can be pretentious and complicated but he does arise an emotional response within Fanny and therein lies the problem.
John is a poet—he has no money to speak of and values Fanny too highly to ask her to marry him (he knows that she will accept and then he will have an impoverished wife).
Fanny, like most girls portrayed in a situation like this, doesn't care about money—she just wants to be with John.
The love that is produced on screen is ravishing and exquisitely intimate. It's a portrait of two lovers. For a couple that only kisses a few times, the romance that blossoms between John and Fanny is sensational.
John and Fanny both have limitations in the worlds that they know. John is confined to poetry and Fanny—to sewing and preciseness. They compliment each other and they open the other's eyes to things that were thought to be myth.
Ben Whishaw is one of my favorite actors; he's intriguing and always picks roles that are complex. Here he vanishes into the poet and gives a very good performance; but he is overpowered by Abbie Cornish who is so perfect in "Bright Star" that it hurts to watch.
The movie is depressing, when the final scene has gone from the screen you may wonder why you wasted your time. It's a drag in parts and at other parts, it's a beautiful film.
While is does have a good romance and a cruel ending—is its story really that compelling?
I wonder if it's just my disinterest in poetry that makes me feel this way....
"Bright Star" is a very nicely executed work; maybe too long and too obscure for its own good.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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