John Keats was a penniless poet who died young, believing he was a failure, but lived on posthumously as an iconic literary figure widely regarded as one of the great romantic writers.
It is fitting, then, that Jane Campion’s Bright Star, a biopic of Keats’s later years and in particular his relationship with lover Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) is a deeply romantic film: moody, sumptuous, beautiful and sad. There is a soft and sorrowful elegance to Campion’s story of young doomed love. Her direction is melodic but powerful – Campion knows how to hold together a costume drama; she knows how to keep her actors reading wistfully from the same page. The Piano (1993) and Portrait of a Lady (1996) put her in very good stead.
The performances in Bright Star are outstanding. Paul Schneider steals the show as the jaded, acerbic, sometimes garrulous Mr Brown, whose bromance with Keats forms a substantial wing of the story. Abbie Cornish handles a range of modes – curious, love struck, contemptuous, morose – and nails them all. And there is an almost musical rhythm to Ben Wishaw’s performance in the all important role. Quaint but powerful, Wishaw brings colour and vitality to his version of Keats as an aloof head-in-the-clouds ruminator. The chemistry between Wishaw and Cornish lifts Bright Star to another level. They radiate a throbbingly repressed sexual energy – steamy as hell – and the dynamic between them forms the film’s beguiling raison d’être.
Bright Star’s Australian theatrical release date: December 26, 2009