Thursday, 7 July 2011

“Bright Star”. A Review Of The 2009 Jane Campion Film Now On A 2010 DVD.

"…A Thing Of Beauty…"

“Bright Star” opens with a close-up of a thread being needled - but the pull and placing of the wool is not methodical nor part of some daily Nineteenth Century drudgery - it’s being done carefully – almost as if there’s tenderness being sown into each cross-stitch. We then see that the seamstress is a 20-year old lady sat by a window in the early hours of the morning in her bonnet and ribbons – she is Fanny Brawne (beautifully played by the Australia actress Abbie Cornish). Her younger sister Toots (Edie Martin) then wakes up in the bed nearby and sighs at Fanny – Toots may only be 6, but she knows exactly who all the 'just so' work is for…

Jane Campion’s 2009 re-telling of the mercurial love affair between the struggling English romantic poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne has been accused by scholars and purists as being historically inaccurate and frankly hogwash. But I feel this is to miss the point. This is a movie - and some artistic allowance is to be expected. But more importantly, Campion absolutely makes it work – and for the whole journey too. You care about these idealistic people – you are enthralled by their short but oh so sweet shot at happiness – and Fanny’s destruction at her soulmate’s loss is one of the most powerful scenes committed to celluloid in decades.

The setting is Hampstead Village, London in 1818 – and Greig Fraser’s Cinematography puts huge amounts of detail on screen. This is a world of Inky Quills, Scullery Maids and Pantaloons - where men smoke cigars, gulp brandy and sing chummy Acapella songs for the gathered Ladies and Gentlemen at society parties. A triple-pleated mushroom collar is a clothing advance and a man who is dying of consumption (Keats’ brother) is described as ‘diminished’.

Words are all in this society and Campion’s script revels in it. Keats’ poems “Endymion”, “Bright Star” and “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be” are all quoted – and the dialogue in-between is just as elegant and insightful. But of course the movie lives and dies on the dance of love between Cornish and Whishaw – and that courtship and deepening of feeling features so many great moments… a look she gives Keats in the woods as they walk and exchange ideas, her reaction to Tom’s death - create something of beauty to remember him by – an embroidered pillow case that she sat up all night making – her feet curling on a bed as she devours one of Keats love letters – her tender kisses on the paper as she posts her reply…
It could all have been so terribly corny, but both the actors and the script give it life and a genuine beating heart. Mark Bradshaw’s music is also used sparingly and with great effect – and when it isn’t there – the silence engenders a terrible feeling of foreboding (sickness, death).

Special mention should also go to Paul Schneider who is exceptional as the arrogant and obsessive Mr. Brown – supposed friend and fellow accomplice in poetry with Keats. Brown does everything to thwart the burgeoning romance between Keats and Brawne – feeling her a distraction from their lofty writing and a danger to his talent - even coveting her as his own. His vehemence forces Keats to step up to the plate and Fanny is well able for him. The core 3 actors here are fabulous together. Special mention should also go to Kerry Fox as Fanny’s practical mother and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Liam Neeson’s son in “Love Actually”) as her younger brother Samuel - also quietly superb.

The extras include (a) Working With Jane Campion Documentary (b) Behind The Scenes Featurette (c) Deleted Scenes (d) Photo Gallery and (e) Trailer – the lone subtitle is ‘English For The Hearing Impaired’. My only real gripe is that it’s not on BLU RAY - a format that would surely make this beauty shine like a diamond (due in 2011 apparently).

Campion and her exceptionally talented cast are to be congratulated – “Bright Star” is a literate, sensual, beautifully staged and gushingly romantic tale - and proud of it. They did a great job and I for one was deeply moved…

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