Sumptuously mounted and remarkably grounded, Bright Star is a breezy, passionate, and gently erotic love story that never tips into sentimentality. It eludes any taint of costume drama frippery and recasts hackneyed old stanzas in refreshing new verse.
Bright Star is the heartbreaking account of gifted poet John Keats and beloved dressmaker Fanny Brawne, a star-crossed couple in early 1800s London. Told in delicate, painterly colours, magnificently presented through the simplest and most routine moments – as a sequence of awkward glances, minor missteps, long separations, and chaperoned walks in the woods – their attachment exemplifies a lyrical, layered courtship in an age of Hollywood crass.
Gorgeous and organic, gritty and ethereal, quaint and contemporary, it’s an intoxicating and intelligent romance with strong fleshed-out characters that defy all the clichés. Silence, stillness, and the restrained desire of its lovers are given their due. Most of all, it’s a fine-boned, luminous tribute to Keats and the sufferings of disrupted devotion, reminding us of the brilliance of Keats’ flame, and how it was extinguished far too early.
Anchored by refined direction from Jane Campion (The Piano) and a flinty rendering of Fanny from relative newcomer Abbie Cornish (Stop-Loss), Bright Star boasts an irrefutable combination of wise casting, unselfconscious performances, burnished photography, and unstuffy dialogue. Every frame features an attention to detail, a passion for literature, and an intense, fully clothed, pre-Victorian sexiness that suggest a director in something close to rapture. Greig Fraser’s cool cinematography offsets the heat in Campion’s ecstatically literate screenplay, which quotes Keats’ handiwork all the way through the credits. It sounds like music.
What further animates this dramatically constrained film beyond the lively words is the vitality of nature. An image of butterflies blooming in a bedroom is Keats’ worldview in miniature. The room becomes a living bouquet: The insects, dashes of fluttery, silken color, linger on doorknobs; they perch delicately on linen curtains; they land on wooden windowsills painted white.
Ripe with the eroticism of a proud woman being seduced by words and undone by emotions, Bright Star traces the comminglings and collisions of poetic creation and amatory passion. It avoids any trace of musty reverence for a long-dead writer by concentrating our senses on the breathtaking girl next door, and portrays a romance not as torrid waves of drama but as something that is clumsily born, yet steadily gains its holding.
Intimate as a whisper, immediate as a blush, and universal as a first kiss, Bright Star palpitates with the sensual and spiritual. Your heart will break, your head will swoon, and you will vainly hope for a happy ending that history does not permit. Burning with a scintillating beauty, Bright Star is a shining beacon in the recesses of the night, and its glow persists.