31 January 2011

Review | Bright Star

It is my sincere belief that when future film historians look back over this current period of cinema, they will surely consider it unfathomable that Bright Star was nominated for only one Academy Award. In contrast, that year a computer generated turd known as Avatar took over the world and award shows. Sheer madness.

Bright Star tells the famous story of the love affair between poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and seamstress Fanny Brawne, who is here portrayed as quick witted and flirtatious by Abbie Cornish. They meet and fall in love over the course of a summer, oblivious to the inevitability of that 19th Century common cold, tuberculosis.

Jane Campion has crafted one of the most beautiful films ever made. From the soft colour pallette to the heartbreaking score by composer Mark Bradshaw, every scene is tinged with beauty and lit like a classic painting. England has never looked more beautiful than in
Bright Star; golden sunsets are plentiful, Hampstead Heath is adorned with bluebells, and even the rain and storms have a grace and powerful potency. As it does in the novels of many 19th Century authors, the weather here is a character all in itself, with it being the cause for the illness that eventually steals the life of Keats.

If you harbour any worries that this is a stuffy costume drama, I implore you to let them go. The setting is almost 200 years ago, but the emotions and relationships feel very relevant to a 21st Century audience. This is not two hours of bloomers and afternoon tea, but rather Campion allows us to witness the ups and downs of the relationship; the teasing, the arguments, the jealousy. There are no wet shirts here.

The acting is sublime. Cornish and Whishaw, relative unknowns, give wonderful performances that never threaten to veer off into melodrama. Whishaw's eloquent voice is perfectly suited to the task of reading Keats' verses as if they were his own, and he manages to convey so much emotion with a brief glance or simple movement of the hand. Cornish gives Fanny spirit without making her annoying, and shows an ability to handle both serious dramatic scenes as well as moments of comedy. The supporting cast are all wonderful, with the standout performance being Paul Schneider as Keats' poet friend, Charles Armitage Brown. With this role following his supporting turn in
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he has quickly cemented his status as one to watch. He too demonstrates serious range, acting the clown around Fanny as well as conveying the strong, loving admiration he has for his friend.

It is outrageous that this film was not given the recognition it deserved. For some inexplicable reason, it has not been released on Blu-ray within the UK, requiring a purchase from Amazon.fr
in order to enjoy the high-definition experience of such a beautifully shot film. (Do it.)

So, to the film historian in 2050, seek out Bright Star and ensure it is celebrated. In the words of John Keats himself, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever". Let's keep it alive.