In select cinemas on Friday
Out this week is “Bright Star,” the tragic love story of poet John Keats and his young neighbor, Fanny Brawne directed by Jane Campion (“The Piano“). Brawne, played by Abbie Cornish, is a fashionable teen who designs her own clothes and finds poetry a bore – which she unabashedly tells Keats (Ben Whishaw) and housemate Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider). But her coyness is dropped when she hears that Keats’ brother is ill and she subsequently asks that Keats teach her poetry, much to Mr. Brown’s dismay. A passionate love affair blossoms under Keats’ tutelage in the dramatic way only first loves can.
Keats and Brawne go through all the emotions of young love, highlighted and perhaps exaggerated by Keats’ freshly-written poetry. Cornish and Whishaw are fantastic in their roles – though I have to say, I preferred Whishaw as dandy Sebastian Flyte in “Brideshead Revisited.” Schneider offers moments of grand comic relief as the snarling, rude, and lazy poet pal to Keats’ brooding, earnest, and tormented character. The surprising show-stealer, however, is not Mr. Brown in his Tweedle Dum plaid pantaloons, tummy up and out, but Brawne’s young ginger-haired sister, Toots (Edie Martin). But Toots can not keep us from wondering how long the movie will continue. “Bright Star” is probably 20 or 30 minutes too long, sagging here and there, especially during lengthy poetry readings. I know it’s about a poet and all but can we get some B roll or something? Watching an actor recite poetry is dreadful.
What I found most striking was Campion’s ability to portray the intense, physical intimacy between Brawne and Keats without showing any actual intimacy between the two. Close shots where the two lie intertwined on a couch, reciting poetry to each other, foreheads touching or pushing their beds close to the wall that they share, cheeks and hands pressed on opposite sides, show best their ardent feelings. It is in these moments that “Bright Star” shines (pun intended!).