DIRECTED BY: Jane Campion
STARRING: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw
SHOWING: Uptown Theatre
The sheer number of period dramas hitting the box office today can be overwhelming, what with all the stuffy, corseted Keira Knightleys and Cate Blanchetts of the world reigniting nostalgia for riches and royalty. But “Bright Star,” a telling of the brief love affair between renowned romantic poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw ) and witty 19th-century fashionista Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish ), approaches the genre from a distinctly literary angle, asserting itself as an exquisite entry into the costume period drama catalogue.
Audiences don’t wander into a heartrending depiction of one of the most prominent romantic poets by accident, but those looking for a historical biopic of Keats may be disappointed. Instead of a dramatized depiction of his life, the film paints a portrait of the chaste obsession Keats found in Brawne, and most of the film’s prominent scenes focus instead on her story rather than his.
“Bright Star” borrows its name from a poem Keats composed for Brawne, which begins, “Bright star, would I were as steadfast as thou art.” The love affair between Brawne and Keats began in 1818, while Keats was renting an extension of Brawne’s home.
Much like Keats’ dreamy love letters and extensive emotional descriptions, “Bright Star” often lingers on images and scenes for longer than necessary. The film’s meticulous direction and voyeuristic over-the-shoulder shots accentuate Keats’ admiring gaze at Brawne, digging into their complex relationship as he watches her through a window while he writes.
The costume design adds to the film’s aesthetic and enhances the slow-but-steady plot. Brawne is always dressed in dramatic self-sewn evening gowns with plunging necklines and breathtaking detail, while Keats remains in the same tattered blue velvet jacket no matter the weather. The contrast reflects the wealth disparity that kept Keats and Brawne from each other for years.
Cornish’s Fanny prevails as witty, stubborn and somber throughout. As the film progresses, bouts of spastic crying become more frequent and prolonged. The shots of her hands constantly fidgeting with iconic mushroom collar borders or finishing a pleated dress paint her anxiety and boredom as a melancholy portrait of the upper class.
“Bright Star” attempts to find a place in a somewhat saturated genre and succeeds. With its lyrical, flowing cinematography and gorgeously rich colors, it’s all too easy to get swept up the poetry and forget that this love story is a bit long-winded.
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