It's 1818 in Hampstead Village on the outskirts of London. Poet Charles Brown lives in one half of a house, the Dilkes family who live in the other half. Through their association with the Dilkes, the fatherless Brawne family know Mr. Brown. The Brawne's eldest daughter, Fanny Brawne, and Mr. Brown don't like each other. She thinks he's arrogant and rude, and he feels that she is pretentious, knowing only how to sew (admittedly well as she makes all her own fashionable clothes), flirt and give opinions on subjects about which she knows nothing. Insecure struggling poet John Keats comes to live with his friend, Mr. Brown. Miss Brawne and Mr. Keats have a mutual attraction to each other, a relationship which however is slow to develop in part since Mr. Brown does whatever he can to keep the two apart. But other obstacles face the couple, including their eventual overwhelming passion for each other clouding their view of what the other does, Mr. Keats' struggling career which offers him ... Written by
"Bright Star" is Jane Campion's least graphic film, but it's also one of her most passionate
"Bright Star" is not only one of the best films of the year, but also Jane Campion's return to top form. Possibly the most acclaimed female director of her time, thanks to early strong and praised works such as "Sweetie" (1989), "An Angel At My Table" (1990) and particularly "The Piano" (1993), the truth is that Campion hasn't had a real critical or commercial success since... "The Piano". "The Portrait of a Lady" (1996), her adaptation of the Henry James novel, had a stellar cast, but was almost universally ignored; "Holy Smoke!" (1999), with Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, had its moments, but failed to impress anybody; and "In the Cut" (2003) was easily her worst film (but far from a disaster). The fact that Campion managed to remain such a respected name all these years even though not being the most prolific or successful filmmaker proves how influential and fascinating she is. She became some sort of figure for all the major female filmmakers from the past two decades and developed a very personal style marked by strong female sexuality (often, repressed), told with visual lyricism. She may be considered a feminist, but not the obviously preachy type, because her work flows like good cinema, and not as a heavy-handed gender discussion.
"Bright Star" is a tragic love story, beautifully directed, acted, photographed and written. Is it a revolutionary or innovative film? No. But the power of its lyricism and unabridged romanticism is infinitely touching. Anyone familiar with 19th century poet John Keats knows that he died of tuberculosis at 25 (and this is no major spoiler, since it's mentioned in every synopsis of the film), so we know the love birds are not going to live happily ever after. Campion centers on the three-year romance between Keats (a discreet and charming Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish, magnificent); their passion and the issues that prevented them from being together. Whishaw fits Keats' shoes perfectly, even if he might seem a little too low key at times. Paul Schneider ("All the Real Girls"), who's becoming one of the great American character actors, plays the villain as Charles Armitage Brown, Keats' friend who will do whatever he can to keep him away from Fanny. Kerry Fox ("Shallow Grave", "Intimacy"), unforgettable as Janet Frame in Campion's "An Angel At My Table", plays Mrs. Brawne, and Edie Martin is simply adorable as Fanny's little sister Toots. But this is Abbie Cornish's show all the way. This 27 year-old Australian first impressed me opposite Heath Ledger in 2006's "Candy", and here she shows her full potential. Her Fanny is simply incandescent - a terrific performance that could culminate in Oscar glory. For all romantics and admirers of good cinema, "Bright Star" is what Keats himself would call 'a thing of beauty... a joy forever' - intoxicatingly beautiful. 10/10.
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