The thin line between pretentiousness and romantic poetry is not very well trodden in Jane Campion’s luscious looking fictionalised account of poet John Keats’ love affair with Fanny Brawne. The movie takes its title from one of the poems that Keats wrote to Fanny in one of the many love letters he sent her during their three year romance just before his early death, aged just 25. Campion shows a deference to the poet’s work by including snippets of his writing whenever possible.The problem that the New Zealand director cannot overcome is that there is the lack of electricity between Ben Whishaw (Perfume, Brideshead Revisited) and Abbie Cornish (Somersault, Candy) in the lead roles.
Cornish is miscast as the literal girl-next-door who inspires but doesn’t quite get her neighbour’s work. Keats’ mentor Charles Brown (Paul Schneider) doesn’t think it’s a good match either and tries to break them up. Bright Star is an unusually bland and conventional entry from a director whose previous films, among them Holy Smoke! and The Piano, are marked by an inherent vibrancy and humanity. The beautiful imagery and words cannot hide the lack of substance, and even the feminist agenda set up by Fanny being a fashion designer, a working woman (gasp!), is undone when she goes weak at the knees at the sight of Keats. If you want to see a more original romance in poetic prose, revisit Sally Potter’s overlooked 2004 foray into the iambic pentameter Yes.
General release from Fri 6 Nov.