|BRIGHT star! would I were steadfast as thou art—|
|Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,|
|And watching, with eternal lids apart,|
|Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,|
|The moving waters at their priestlike task||5|
|Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,|
|Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask|
|Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—|
|No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,|
|Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,||10|
|To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,|
|Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,|
|Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,|
|And so live ever—or else swoon to death.|
So as I tweeted, my HLP and I went to see an evening show of Bright Star last Thursday night; with us in the theater, most of the neighborhood's over-60 population and a few other young folks.
Well, the movie lives up to the hype, readers, particularly if you are a poetry fan. Its pace is reminiscent of Brokeback Mountain, slow and deliberate, with a lingering touch and gorgeous use of landscape (and in this case, interiors) as reflection and comment on the emotions running through the film. The acting was phenomenal. Ben Whishaw was a believable Keats--wiry and intense and brilliant but with a sense of humor and also a detachment from the world he writes about, a ghostlike quality that prefigures his soon-to-be fragile condition. It's important to see him as a real person, one who eats and plays and is occasionally petulant and childish despite his genius, while also seeing him as one of the Greats--and Whishaw and Campion do this perfectly.
This otherwordliness of Keats is counterbalanced by his very earthy lady love, Fanny Brawne, played by Abbie Cornish. And yes, she is as good as everyone says. Fanny is not just a typical "spunky" period-drama heroine but also an eccentric, vulnerable, curious young woman. The ruffled collars she makes for herself are both lovely and ridiculous, and so is she. From their first encounters, it's clear that she and "Mr. Keats" share something the rest of the world does not: a deeply passionate outlook on, well, everything. And her relationship with her family, subtly-drawn, is extremely touching. There are glimpses of her mother which reveal why Fanny grew up to be as boldly unique and uncaring about social convention as she was.
Bright Star treats Keats' poetry with respect and refrains from too many winking nudges to its literate viewers. Unlike Becoming Jane, set in the same period, it doesn't posit Fanny as Keats' only muse or the source of his genius or even the source of any of his good lines, which is a wise choice on Campion's part. It does suggest that "Bright Star" was "her" poem, but Fanny is surprised to hear it when Keats recites it to her. It also gently exposes how young and melodramatic its lovers are without mocking them for being that way.
"Bright Star" explores what it takes to love, and lose, a great and doomed artist--yes, we all know how it ends. Bring your hankies, but don't fail to see it--it's one of the great ones.