The dignified Campion costume romance between doomed poet John Keats and his smitten lover Fanny Brawne enraptured most critics. Unfortunately, dignified or not, it’s also a slow art house slog. Of course, some people find Campion’s frilly lace bonnets blowing in the breeze and the corset-constrained old world emotions fascinating, but after 118 minutes it all just seemed mind-numbingly repetitive and, for lack of a better word, dull.
Bright Star (2009) dir. Jane Campion
Starring: Ben Wishaw, Abbie Cornish, Paul Schneider
By Alan Bacchus
Abbie Cornish plays Fanny Brawne, a comely young gal who’s in love with local poet John Keats (Ben Wishaw), who’s completely broke but is supported by his wealthier best friend, Mr. Brown (Paul Schneider). Brawne, who is a seamstress and fashion clothier, is admittedly naive to the 'esotericness' of poetry and asks for his guidance in such literature. Yawn. To Mr. Brown though, Brawne is his Yoko Ono, a meddling presence who gets in the way of Keats’ work and their own manly bonding. To this end Brawne is forced to put up with Brown’s constant belligerence. But romance pushes through and Keats and Brawne go through the stages of courtship and romance.
Meanwhile, as her mother watches the romance bloom she pushes back against the idea of Fanny marrying an artist without any monetary means whatsoever. No matter though because, as some of you might know from history, Keats develops a case of tuberculosis resulting in a lengthy, drawn out death, which crushes Fanny’s tender heart.
Admittedly, the only thing to keep me going through the endless repetitious scenes of longing glances, tender handholding and linen’s swaying with the breeze was (shamelessly) waiting to see if the two handsome actors would ‘get it on’ on screen. Knowing Campion’s track record with stripping down her actors to complete nudity I thought I might at least catch a decent glimpse of Ms. Cornish’s lovely naked skin nuzzling against Mr. Wishaw’s manly body. Nope. The romance remained cinematically unconsummated.
Though we don’t get to see their nude bodies, Cornish and Wishaw are indeed great fresh-faced actors, especially Wishaw, who was unforgettable as the olfactory killer in Perfume and one of the Bob Dylans in He’s Not There. And here he’s just as magnetic, even when he’s playing a boring ol’ romantic TB-diseased poet.
Viewers interested in the fashion of the era might have their interest piqued, as the costumes are given acute attention. Its Oscar nomination in 2009 was richly deserved.