In her study of the chaste love affair between Fanny Brawne and John Keats in the three years prior to his death in 1821, Jane Campion (best known for The Piano) has in Bright Star dircted an intelligent and entirely beautiful film, which is not only her best film to date, but a film that is worthy of serious Oscar consideration.
Biopics about the creation of writing are notoriously dull and difficult, yet Campion prevents this through her choice of protaginist. Rather than Keats, Fanny is our focus; who, through her dressmaking is also a creator of something fine and admirable, as Keats is though his poetry. Wonderfully played by Abbie Cornish, Fanny is aware of her limitations in understanding poetry, remarking poems are difficult to make out. In seeking lessons from Keats (Ben Whishaw) in how to understand poetry, Keats teaches both Fanny and audience, with Fanny acting as mediator between our own understanding and the world of Keats’ poetry.
Campion interweaves Keats’ poetry with the dialogue of the film: the actors recite the poetry as it is created, or as Fanny attempts to understand what Keats has written; yet the film never feels staid or stuffy, but rather entirely naturalistic and unobtrusive throughout.
In part due to Campion’s directiorial style, alongside the quality of the cast (in particular Cornish, Whishaw and Edie Martin as Brawne’s younger sister), Campion is able to produce a film that is refreshingly slow placed, composed and intelligent. Keats here is not an untouchable genius, who in creating such poetry is above the common man, but earthy, entirely relatable, and pleasingly unaffected in his teachings to Fanny.
With a sparse score, the film allows the sounds of nature to take centre stage; we see Keats writing ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ not in a flurry of urgent creativity (as the temptation may have been), but rather serenely sitting under a tree as Fanny simultaneously produces her own creation.
In Bright Star Campion has created something truly beautiful; the cinematography is remarkable, and in a study of all encompassing, all consuming love, Campion has avoided the Hollywood route of melodrama and sexualisation, creating an intensely exquisite film. In showing the creation of Keats’ masterpieces, Campion has quite possibly created her own.