On a boat to Italy, where he would soon die at the young age of 25, English poet John Keats inscribed a sonnet in his traveling companion's copy of Shakespeare's Poems. It was a poem about love he had left behind in England. The sonnet's first line, "Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art," refers to Keats' beloved Fanny Brawne, and it's also the inspiration for a stunning new film about their star-crossed romance.
Directed by Jane Campion (The Piano), Bright Star is a period piece set around London in 1818-1821, as a brief but passionate romance unfolds between twentysomethings—the not-yet-successful poet Keats and his next-door neighbor Brawne. The two at first don't seem to be a logical pair. Keats, played by Ben Whishaw (I'm Not There), is something of a bohemian, a melancholic writer with ink on his hands, torn ragged jackets, and little money in the bank. Brawne, deftly portrayed by Abbie Cornish (Somersault), is a fashionista girly girl more concerned with fabulous clothes than Homer or Chaucer. She doesn't "get" poetry and would rather dance at a ball. He doesn't dance.
But these differences are no match for the intense youthful love that quickly develops between them, much to the dismay of Keats' best friend Mr. Brown (Paul Schneider with a Scottish accent) who thinks Brawne a dilettante, and Mrs. Brawne (Kerry Fox), who would rather see her daughter in love with a man with some money. Their love affair is star-crossed from the beginning, to be sure, but it unfolds in so delicate and joyful a manner that we hardly grieve over the knowledge that it will be painfully short-lived due to Keats' struggle with (and eventual death from) tuberculosis.
Bright Star is about the cosmic evanescence of true love. ...1