Monday, June 7, 2010

Bright Star- A Review

"And so ended his affection," said Elizabeth impatiently. "There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!"
"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," said Darcy.
"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away."
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

In the case of Bright Star, the movie directed by Jane Campion, both Elizabeth Bennet and Regency hottie Mr. Darcy are right and wrong in their badinage over the merits of poetry on love. I finally watched the movie last weekend, and loved it so much that I just had to attempt a review on it. Please keep the word " attempt" in mind as you continue with your reading. 

It is the late Regency period, and a spirited nineteenth century fashionista meets with a frail, fey-eyed poet. Sparks fly, and love blooms along with the English wildflowers as John Keats and Fanny Brawne explore the delights and travails of  love.
If you have some knowledge of the history of Keats, you will know how the film ultimately ends. Even with this knowledge however, I watched it, out of curiosity and a mad obsession for all things period drama.

Fanny, as played by Abbie Cornish, is a spunky young thing, a charming mix of verve and practicality. Her nimble fingers create odd and striking garments which she displays as casually as a model, and her ready tongue and merry smile provide her with ready admirers. She is drawn to the thin, starry-eyed John Keats, and after meeting for the first time sends her siblings out to buy his first published book of verse, Endymion.

Keats for his part, is both unnerved and attracted. His experiences with women have been few and mostly tainted with suspicion. Fanny manages to break through his walls of reserves, and thus begins a sweet romance, shadowed by illness and poverty.

I just love how love makes you do stupid things. These scenes are sweet and hilarious at the same time.
Not only is their love challenged by money troubles, and irritating friends ( Keats' friend Charles Brown enjoys perplexing and antagonizing Fanny), they also have to learn how to work around their differences, both in personality and perspective.
Bright Star is a lovely, lush film designed to thrill the senses with its beautiful scenes, soft, gentle music and its moving tribute to first love.

Ben Whishaw plays the gaunt poet to the bone, with his sweet, boyish smile, his awkward reserve and his soft voice. I must confess to the urge to plucking him out of the screen and feeding him up with good things, the boy seriously needs to put on weight. I thought Whishaw did Keats very well indeed, he didn't go over the top and his look of perennial wistfulness tugged at my heartstrings. Abbie Cornish dominated the scenes, however, with her fire and spirit and her vulnerability. I loved how she made Fanny so human and so easy to relate to. I especially enjoyed her fantastic creations with needle and thread, and her very teenage emotions as she struggled with the mystery of love.
The scenes are exquistely delicious. I was reminded of Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice, where every scene was like a fantastic painting. It was such a veritable feast for the eyes, that by the end of an hour, I felt like I was fast sinking in too much beauty, and had to hit the pause button to take a few breaths. And, of course, to work my little screencapping tool overtime.

Fanny Brawne: I still don't know how to work out a poem.
John Keats: A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is a experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery.
Fanny Brawne: I love mystery. 

Bright Star is a little gem of a movie, displaying human emotions with finesse and a slight touch of humour. I smiled and cried throughout it all, and felt rather drained by the end of it, which was actually quite nice, since I hadn't been emotionally invested in a movie for a long time. It definitely deserves a place on my list of Top Fifteen Romantic Movies of All Time. And I'm not really all that into romantic movies, so such an award carries a weighty significance. ;)

One of the few quibbles I had with the film is with the casting of Thomas Sangster as Samuel Brawne, Fanny's younger brother. I've seen Thomas in a few other films (Nanny McPhee, The Last Legion), and I was disappointed with the sparseness of his role in BS. Surely a talented young actor like Thomas could've been given more lines. He pretty much just stood around looking. Anybody can look. It's not that difficult, even I can pull it off. Calling Hollywood...

After I watched the film, I jumped into the Internet and read about the real-life John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Their love story is really touching, and she saved his letters until the day she died, not telling anyone about the fact that she had been the famous John Keats' only love. Keats achieved his fame only after he died, and when his love letters were published, the Victorian public was shocked at this new side of a beloved poet. Fanny came in for a lot of bashing, and until the 1970s, public opinion of her was not terribly complimentary.
You can read more of Keats' and Fanny's love story here. You can also read some of Keats' letters to Fanny at the same site.
Keats is one of my favourite Romantic poets. I love the imagery and passion of his verse. I am romantic, but I'm not a romantic, if that makes any sense. If you haven't been introduced to this wonderful poet yet, I recommend you start with well-known poems like La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Ode On A Grecian Urn.

On a different note, I wonder if they'll trot out a film about Lord Byron. Now that would be scandalous fun indeed!

More screencaps for you to enjoy:

Cutie Ben Whishaw:

1 comment:

  1. Hello, hello! I thought I'd pop over to your blog to see if I like it... and I do!

    I watched "Bright Star" a couple days ago and was vastly disappointed. EVERYONE I know who has seen it absolutely loved it. I thought it was rather slow, and I wasn't fond of Fanny. However, I am resolved to watch it again before I write my official review. "First impressions are often wrong," as Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) would say.

    -Hydra (From Books to Movies and Back Again)


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