I headed off to see Jane Campion’s latest film, Bright Star, with my intrepid fellow film reviewer, Peg, on Friday. Yes, it was another afternoon matinée, or what we have come to call the blue hair screening. It was also a particularly packed one, so there was nowhere to go to get away from the gentleman next to me emitting rather noisy, um, eruptions, nor to escape the man a row back who suddenly began snoring loudly upon the instant in which one of the characters mentioned needing to sleep (about two thirds of the way through the film).
Named for Keats’ poem “Bright Star” the film follows the development of the attachment between Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) and John Keats (Ben Wishaw) in the early nineteenth century. The cast is full of actors you recognize (well, if you watch a lot of small British films) and for the most part excellent and able to slip into their roles with ease. Paul Schneider as Charles Armitage Brown sometimes seems to be powering his Scottish accent with a bellows, nonetheless he has a terrific physical presence that makes much of the intricate intimate relationship between himself, Keats and Brawne. Wishaw brings a vulnerability to the poet, but also a wistful humour. His passionate reactions at times seems to be about to make his limbs fall apart. Cornish brilliantly conveys the awakening interest Brawne develops for this most unlikely man, and her transformation from hard-headed bon vivant to love-sick partner completely captivates.
The film is leisurely and episodic, as you might expect from Campion — it’s also incredibly gorgeous, making the most of both the period costumes and Brawne’s fascination with fashion. The color is absolutely breathtaking in some scenes (yes, yes, the bluebells
lavender [thanks, Chloë!]) and as enervating as a black hole in others. I can’t recall the last time an entire audience stayed spellbound through the closing credits, but in our showing they did — everyone listening to Wishaw’s recital of “Ode to a Nightingale” as the music continued and the credits rolled by. Wonderful.