Film Reviews


By • Sep 19th, 2009 •

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Shallow, slow and Mr. Brown is an irritant.

I left the screening summing up the love story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne, as provided by screenwriter-director Jane Campion, thus: Doomed, penniless poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) has a pure love affair with a temptress-seamstress, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), infuriating his best friend and benefactor Mr. Charles Brown (Paul Schneider). What kind of unholy love affair were Keats and Mr. Brown having?

It is clear that Mr. Brown took a selfish and jealous interest in Keats, doing everything in his power to insult and diminish Fanny in Keats’ eyes. He even suggested that Fanny’s presence made Keats sick. As written by Campion, Mr. Brown (who wrote a memoir of his time with Keats and was the self-appointed keeper-of-the-flame) is obnoxious. Why did Keats keep him around, living, working, and traveling with him?

Fanny is from a socially prominent family though we are not shown how the family, her widowed mother, two younger siblings, and household staff, are provided for. Fanny makes fancy dresses and has an income. She is expected to marry well but she quickly finds herself drawn to the sullen, poorly-dressed Mr. Keats. Circumstances put them in the same large house.

Keats’ brother Tom dies a horrific death from tuberculosis and Keats, ignoring the dangers of the disease, travels to London and returns in a freezing downpour. Keats chose the cheapest way by riding outside the stagecoach without a coat. He should have known what would happen. Within hours he is coughing up blood.

Mr. Brown gets the Brawne maid pregnant (there goes my homosexual subtext), but that doesn’t stop his fury every time Keats gazes at Fanny.

Luckily for Keats, he has wealthy friends who pitch in to send him to Italy to recuperate. Have you ever been to Rome in the winter? It’s cruel and cold. If only Mr. Brown had chosen to accompany his friend to Italy! Instead, he decides to stay in London and Keats dies. It does put a stain on his life-long devotion to one of the greatest poets who ever lived.

This is a film about stolen glances, love letters and notes. Cornish is perfect and there is real chemistry between her and Whishaw. Unlike Colin Firth’s ridiculous, moody artist Johannes Vermeer in GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, Whishaw does not overplay the suffering poet pose. He’s deliciously exotic without being silly.

The slow pace and static direction ruins BRIGHT STAR. Unfortunately, you will not be inspired to read the poetry of John Keats.

Fanny saved over three dozen love letters from Keats, but kept their love affair a secret – something Mr. Brown no doubt approved of. It was only after Fanny died that Keats’ letters were made public by her children and, finally, her name was linked forever to John Keats.

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3 Responses »

  1. I don’t understand this review. This wasn’t helpful to me at all. Basically, what this review says is, “I didn’t like it.” But WHY didn’t you like it? Why was it dry? Why won’t it make me want to read Keats’ poetry. Why? Please explain your opinions.

  2. Bright Star is one of the best dramas I’ve seen all year! The cast was amazing, and the music haunting. Here’s a great interview I found with Abbie Cornish talking about her character in the film, and how she turned to Keats’ original poetry to answer questions during filming. You can find it here:
    Jane Campion is truly one of the most influential female voices in film today, and I don’t think anyone else could have captured the essence of Keats’ story like her!

  3. I have to agree with the first comment. There is something wrong here. You reveal yourself perhaps in the use of the expressions “pure love affair” to describe a troubled heterosexual affair but an “unholy love affair” to describe the innuendo of homosexuality. That latter possibility disturbed you I suggest.
    Keats was probably homosexual but like almost all except Wilde, faced prison, exhile and conempt if he revealed it. Even, Forester wouldn’t allow Maurice to see the light of publication during his life.
    I suggest a couch–and not one in a boudoir.

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