It’s hard to say what makes a poem great. It might capture the music of the soul, a profound thought and a simple observation all at once. Poetry is an art that few still relish and celebrate. But poets have shaped our culture in many ways, from generation to generation.
And, no poet has been more acclaimed posthumously than the Romantic poet John Keats.
The movie “Bright Star” strives to capture a segment of Keats’ life while also reveling in the beauty of his poetry. But the movie is no biopic. It doesn’t even focus on Keats (Ben Whishaw, “Brideshead Revisited”) or his culture-changing philosophies. Instead, “Bright Star” is a love story told from the point of view of his romantic interest, the young Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish, “Stop-Loss”).
Writer and director Jane Campion (“The Piano”) captures the romance between the two main characters without making it too saccharine or maudlin. She is also able to imbue their relationship with a rich sensuality even though nothing more than a few kisses passes between them. But her talents at weaving this story together on screen don’t stop there.
Campion illuminates what could be a rather boring and solitary process—that of writing poetry—in a way that enchants the viewer. The reading of “Ode to a Nightengale” over the credits alone will keep audiences in their seats long after the film is over.
She also captures beautiful cinematic images by paying attention to the most minute of details. There is a scene in a room full of butterflies that is boggling in its simplicity and the delicate difficulties in staging it. She shows close-up shots of stitches being sewn and hands interlocked together that lend a quiet poetry of their own to the overall picture.
This attention to detail is also evident in the costumes worn by Fanny. She takes pride in her vanity and fashion sense and is thus the most colorful creature on the screen on many occasions.
Yet part of this brilliance must also be attributed to Cornish’s acting skills. She is believable in all the joys and despairs of first love, as well as in the grief she must suffer at the end. It is no surprise to see why she’s been nominated for several awards for this role.
This movie is simply breathtaking. It’s a period drama so it won’t be for everyone, but it’s been greatly underrated due to limited advertising and an even more limited theatrical release. It is already on DVD, but will no doubt return to theaters once Oscar nominations are announced.