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
The Hyde House and Estate in Hyde, Bedfordshire substituted for the Keats House in Hampstead. Jane Campion decided that the Keats House (also known as Wentworth Place) was too small and "a little bit fusty". See more »
(at around 1h 16 mins) After Fanny Brawne says "You would have it that I kill Mr. Keats with affection?" Mr. Brown says "Perhaps you will," but the audio doesn't match up with his mouth movements. See more »
It seems that many viewers have coasted through this, believing it to be a simple love story, told simply. It seemed to me anything but that. This is a movie about the rhythms of poetic image from romantic love, translated to cinematic image. The poet is Keats, who likely was as imagined: melancholy, reaching for a romantic purity. Many such existed it seems, but few that achieved this in words that matter.
The story is a simple one: ordinary in many ways. Instead of romanticizing the woman, and their love, Campion does us a real service. She shows that this great love was largely a matter of accident: two primed lonely souls finding each other. The woman in this case really was not very special, except in finding deep love. The contrast between the souls of the poems, and similar pure romantic love of movies and what we have here is striking.
The shift is not from the poetry to the people. The people stay real. It is from the poetry to the cinematic presentation. Campion is able without being obvious, of slipping real romantic images to buoy this. Usually we have conventional duft, presenting some unrealistic ideal. Here we have true love in sight, surrounding ordinariness.
Our bright star is a seamstress obsessed with fashion — fashion that makes her truly seem shallow. Many of the clothes she wears are strikingly ugly in the overall assembly. But in the small — which we often see — they are composed of elements that could be items of extended meditation. That they are her extended skin, consciously designed and carefully crafted makes her an extraordinarily appealing lover.
The first seconds of this film set the world, one that is extraordinary. We see a closeup of a tiny needle being perfectly threaded. We see an enormous closeup of that needle piercing virginal white fabric. We slowly work to the situation of the woman involved. She is the narrator, the maker. This is a movie that goes in my database of "cloth" films, because the use of cloth is basic.
There is short preliminary, a short courting. It is not from Austin, where strong soulmates bond, just two ordinary souls. But when they kiss, we have one of the two sublime scenes. She lays on her bed (the location of which carries great significance). A white curtain blows seductively over her. Her similar white dress has the wind lifting it and awakening underneath. This is absolutely breathtaking.
A second sequence may seem too heavy for most. Her love goes away and she is forlorn. He writes an amazing letter, thus beginning his great period. Butterflies are mentioned. So she fills her room with butterflies. These somehow actually perform as part of the fabric-ed space, participating as if directed. Oh no! She gets a letter cutting off futures, and the butterflies die, to be swept into bins. If ever there was a romantic cinematic environment, this is it, the butter-feathered bedroom, where words feed image.
The little sister, perhaps ten and named Toots, is patterned after Tootie in "Meet Me in St Louis," redhead, precocious, and romanticized beyond all else. She is a sort of emissary into innocence, anchoring the ideals this elicits but does not exploit. Ms Campion, thank you. A movie about love that makes love. Thank you.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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