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Movie review: Bright Star -- 4 out of 5 stars
John Keats' life, love and death make him a romantic cliche and a fine subject for a period romance in Bright Star.
Consider -- his now-revered poetry was scorned in his lifetime. He was genteel yet poor, dependent on the kindness of friends. He died young, of tuberculosis (naturally). And the great love of his life was a woman he could never afford to marry.
"Bright Star" was the sonnet Fanny Brawne inspired Keats to write -- "Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art." And when you meet Fanny, you can see why.
Abbie Cornish portrays Fanny as a young woman ahead of her time, with a biting wit and an eye for fashion -- clothes she designed and sewed herself in that corner of Hampstead where she and her mother and siblings lived. When she strikes up a conversation with Keats over his "Endymion" -- "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever" -- her put-down is worse than any bad review. "I wanted to adore it."
Keats (Ben Whishaw at his palest and frailest) takes it with good humor -- "minx-stress," he calls her. She's just labeled his friend, the Scot Charles Armitage Brown (American actor Paul Schneider, transformed) as a "disgusting ape." The die is cast. She will fall for Keats, and he for her. And Brown will go to some lengths to keep them apart.
Director Jane Campion (Portrait of a Lady) films this Austen-esque romance in the doomed grays of fall, with breaks for snow and the brief glories of spring. She built her script around intimate conversations, many of them about poetry -- "A poem needs understanding through the senses -- an experience beyond thought." She uses our knowledge of Austen-era mores to suggest how heated this affair was, by the standards of the time.
Bright Star is literate, romantic and high-minded. To draw one last comparison with the novelist Jane, it falls somewhat below the best Austen adaptations, but doesn't suffer when matched against the "real" Jane of Becoming Jane. And if Cornish isn't the very picture of the poet's muse, she at least inspired the filmmaker. There was no making Bright Star without her. Bright Star Four of five stars Cast: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider Director: Jane Campion Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes Industry rating: PG for thematic elements, some sensuality, brief language and incidental smoking.