Starring: Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Paul Schneider
Directed by: Jane Campion (“The Piano”)
Written by: Jane Campion (“The Piano”)
In “Bright Star,” director Jane Campion (“The Piano”) uses the words of 19th century English poet John Keats as her personal mantra and paints an inspired picture of a young writer whose passion for his work exposes not only the beauty of the world around him, but also the agony one must live through to appreciate all of life’s love and solidarity.
“Bright Star” is a beautiful story, and one that should be commended for its artistry and absorbing performances. But between all the technical achievements and solid acting, Campion’s film takes yearning to a tiresome level where no lovesick heart should ever tread even for the sake of cinema.
Taking the lead for this gloomy biopic is actor Ben Whishaw (“The International”). As poet John Keats, who dies at the age of 25 and is considered a leader in the Romantic Movement posthumously, Whishaw is an admirable choice. In the film, Campion focuses the story on Keats’ final years of his life as he writes some of his most noteworthy poetry and begins to fall in love with his unconventional neighbor Fanny Browne (Abby Cornish).
It’s a familiar tale one would find in many period pieces that have come before. Keats is a man of meager means whose poems are not generating much income. Fanny’s mother (Kerry Fox) disapproves of her daughter’s romance to someone who cannot support a wife. Keats spends his days refining his writing with his discourteous friend Charles Brown (Paul Schneider in a fantastic role), who becomes intolerant when Fanny comes around more often to unintentionally distract him from his work.
Keats, doesn’t mind much, however. Call her a muse if you must, but his relationship with Fanny takes hold of him. Campion wants us to believe it affects his prose in a most profound way. Whether it does or not is really of no importance by the third act. This is when Campion sends Fanny into a spiraling depression and Keats into a hopeless journey toward death.
Relying on Keats’ romantic nature to pull them out of this tedious waiting game in the long final stretch, Campion loses sight of what was working before. Keats’ poetry plays a vital part not only as impassioned symbolism but also as dialogue when Whishaw recites passages. It’s lost, however, in the woeful characters that never let up. Schneider injects some much needed humor and tension between the lovers, but Campion refuses to draw a line of distinction between love and pain.
Maybe in “Bright Star” there doesn’t necessarily need to be one, but when a narrative that should stimulate the heart becomes more exasperating than romantic, Campion should have let up on the overly-distressing tone.