BRIGHT STAR **
Some people think that sex is overrated.
They’re wrong. But that’s another story…
When individuals possess passionate feelings for each other, it seems a wicked shame not to embrace the delirium.
But sometimes fate intervenes and that ecstatic threshold is never crossed.
The setting is London in 1818. Ambitious fashion designer FANNY BRAWNE (ABBIE CORNISH) becomes acquainted with her neighbour, the legendary poet JOHN KEATS (BEN WHISHAW).
They had a dark tragic romance that lasted three years. Their love was never consummated.
Fanny is initially derisive of Mr. Keats and the friend that shares his lodgings, CHARLES ARMITAGE BROWN (PAUL SCHNEIDER).
Charles teases her relentlessly. His constant harassment has a nasty, bitter edge to it. Naturally, it has mostly to do with the fact that he’s resentful. Fanny doesn’t know that he’s alive and has absolutely no tolerance for him. Charles’ cruelty to Fanny will intensify as she becomes more involved with John.
At the beginning, Fanny has very little interest in literature or writers. She is somewhat disdainful of the men for wasting their youth chasing impossible dreams. Fanny is much too practical to starve for her art.
Her clothing is exquisite and very much in demand. As she reminds them crisply, her creativity provides her with an actual income. That’s a luxury that the boys have yet to experience for themselves.
She gradually finds herself spending more time with John, who is equally serious about his work and his life.
But things are far from simple. Back then, a gentleman needed to have sufficient funds to court any woman he desired. In English society at that particular juncture, no male entertained any thought of an actual relationship unless he had enough money to marry and support a family.
Mr. Keats’ financial future seemed bleak. As their close friendship developed, the pair forged a romantic bond that even calamitous circumstances could not sever.
For John, Fanny was his bright star.
Costume dramas have a tendency to be precious, dry and plodding. This film is the quintessential example.
It’s a hard slog that suffers from a number of difficulties. It has a variety of positive attributes. But that can’t make up for the fact that it’s deeply, devastatingly dull.
The actors are all fantastic. ABBIE CORNISH is magnificent as the quietly stubborn, strong willed Fanny, who is far more emotional and vulnerable than she first appears.
BEN WHISHAW is certainly her equal in terms of performance. He’s an exceptionally charismatic JOHN KEATS. With his big warm eyes and his inviting smile, he draws you in from the opening scene.
KERRY FOX lends solid support as Fanny’s mother.
PAUL SCHNEIDER deserves enormous credit for making his character endlessly watchable. His Scottish accent is perfection.
Charles recklessly seduces a servant girl and gets her pregnant without caring about her welfare or the consequences of his actions. The man is a pig. He should have been whipped until he was dead.
But you have to give him credit for his final breakdown over John’s precarious health. Charles is a villain that’s great fun to hate.
There is so much overwhelming gorgeousness that you could drown in it.
Cinematographer GRIEG FRASER composes shimmering shots of white crysanthemums covered with snow and fields of fragrant deep purple blue bells.
Costume designer JANET PATTERSON does a brilliant job of bringing the period to life. Her wardrobe for Fanny is breathtaking.
It’s a cinematic positive that JANE CAMPION is making films. She’s a unique talent that marches to the beat of her own drummer. Not only is the industry in great need of more female auteurs but it’s also essential to have directors with strong points of view.
Ms. Campion would fulfill all of those requirements. Her movies have a high degree of artistry. But her fanciful eccentric worlds are not always easy to access.
Some members of the audience at the screening last weekend (most of them women) laughed hysterically at several scenes – where the painfully bad emotional histrionics and the artificial situations that the characters were shoehorned into just didn’t make realistic sense.
Even before this postmodern age of inflated irony, it wouldn’t be believable.
The pacing dragged unmercifully.
It’s like having a conversation with a great looking man who turns out to be incredibly boring. You’re highly intrigued, but after a short time you start to float inexorably towards drowsiness.
You just can’t keep your eyes open.
Extravagant beauty and monumental tedium are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts.
BRIGHT STAR is living proof of that.