Bright Star

12 August 2011

My sister has met the author and she wants to read it for herself to see if he’s an idiot or not.

I’ve wanted to see Bright Star, Jane Campion’s film about the short but very sweet relationship of Keats and Fanny Brawne, for ages but only managed to catch it for the first time late last night.

I don’t know quite what was I was expecting – something rather vapid and wishy washy with pretty girls in empire line dresses mooching around drearily while their foppish suitors write poetry and look moodily into the sea. You know the sort of thing. Instead, however, Bright Star was probably the most traumatising film I have seen so far this year – a visceral depiction of the despair of doomed love, saved from becoming twee romantic mush both by the heartfelt performances of its leads, the often darkly humourous script and the grounding of one of the most well known and passionate affairs in the history of poetry in the daily grind and hum of everyday life.

I rather love Ben Whishaw, who plays Keats, anyway – his burning eyed, tragic, out of control Sebastian Flyte in the recent film of Brideshead Revisited made an arresting counterpoint to Anthony Andrews’ more foppish rendition. He was incredible in this though – really capturing the fragility, gentleness, self absorption and intensity of Keats as he struggles between his love of poetry and deep infatuation with Fanny. Not to mention the fact that he’s sadly lumbered with that which most women fear above all other things – the possessive annoying male best friend who reacts with petulant spite when Keats’ attention wanders from himself.

Abbie Cornish was also superb as the fiery and outspoken Miss Brawne, with her smouldering eyes, impish smile, tendency to public confrontation and passion for the latest fashions. The person who made the costumes for Fanny seems to have had a lot of fun creating really colourful, elaborate outfits – all of which were supposed to have been designed and made by the talented Fanny herself, who denies any poetic ability but is clearly as skilled at elegant self expression as her lover, Keats.

The film itself was simply stunning – dreamy, heartbreaking, romantic and dramatic by turns and a real treat for the senses. The tragedy, of course, is only increased by knowing what is coming at the end (unless you are my husband) for Keats and Fanny and this knowledge is made all the more unbearable by the fact that the romance between them is so very believable. It’s more than just chemistry – I was absolutely sucked in by the intensity of their love and their devotion to each other and so when the news of Keats’ death arrives and Fanny collapses, screaming that she can’t breathe, I too wept and felt actual pain for her.

The stark shot of Keats’ coffin being carried along the bottom of the Spanish Steps is not easily forgotten either although I must confess that scenes like that always bring me out of the film a bit as I start wondering ‘How did they do that? Did they film it in the middle of the night and bribe the teenage tourists to stay out of shot?’

It was stunning though, seriously stunning. In fact the whole film was but if you’re expecting something really feel good like an Austen adaptation then you may well be out of luck as you’re more likely to stagger away feeling like your heart has been ripped out.

I don’t know much about Keats to be honest – I studied some of his poems for A Level English Literature (didn’t we all?) and then on a gloomy day in the mid nineties, went to visit Keats House in Rome while on an undergraduate trip there. I’ll never forget those claustrophobic, miserable little rooms and the guide who sonorously greeted every single visitor with a funereal air and the slowly intoned words: ‘This is Keats house, where he lived and then died.’

Bright Star seems to be on Sky Movies rather a lot at the moment and I really recommend that you watch it if you get a chance. I’m now hankering after a cloud of bluebells in my garden and wishing that people still wrote lovely long love letters to each other.

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