Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Bright Star, Dim Star, Bright Star, Dim Star
Posted by JaneGS
Since I first learned about Jane Campion's film Bright Star,the story of John Keats's doomed relationship with his sometime muse, Fanny Brawne, I have been somewhere between ambivalent and schizophrenic about it.
One the one hand I have loved Keats poetry since I first encountered Ode on a Grecian Urn as a high school student and then chose him as an author to focus on in college, so why wouldn't I love the opportunity to see a biopic of him? Well....Becoming Jane for starters. I hate it when the genius of a favorite artist is reduced to being simply the result of thwarted love. Yes, Keats adored Fanny. Yes, she inspired some of his poetry, but there was so much more to Keats than this single infatuation followed by his untimely death from tuberculosis.
Nevertheless, I did get caught up in the excitement surrounding Bright Star in the blogosphere and read so many good reviews of it that I was first in the queue at Netflix when the DVD was released.
Did I like it? Yes and no. I thought it was brilliantly acted, lusciously filmed, gloriously costumed, and poorly scripted. I was confused. While I've read all of Keats poems, some repeatedly, and all of his letters, though quite awhile ago, I've never read a biography. I couldn't quite remember why he came to be living with Charles Brown, who the people were who rented the house to Charles Brown and Fanny's family and came to tea and offered advice, and why Charles Brown was so condescending to Fanny, was there a backstory there I didn't know about? The movie never explained any of this, nor did it explain who the young men were who raised the funds to send Keats to Rome and his death.
Since Bright Star was really only about the relationship between Keats and Fanny, I think I would have liked it better had we not had all these other characters floating about who were apparently extraneous to the story but kept getting in the way and confusing and annoying me.
To be honest, I did get caught up in the love story. But again, nit-picking, I felt a certain frustration in Keats being forever barred from marrying Fanny because he had no money. If he loved her that much, why didn't he get a job so that they could marry? Oh, yes, he was a poet and needed his musing time. I'm being facetious, but why couldn't the script have him rant even a little about having to choose poetry over Fanny because that is what he ultimately did. Instead, it seemed like Mrs. Brawne and the busy-body landlady were pulling a Lady Russell and forbidding Fanny to "marry for love." You can't live on love, even passionate love, and it bugs me that Bright Star reduces Keats's life to that simple plot line.
The absolutely best part of the movie was Ben Whishaw as Keats reciting his poetry. I would have been perfectly happy to have 2 hours of that with the pretty images of Keats/Fanny walking over the bridge, gathering flowers, pressing hands to the walls that separated them, gazing at the sky, etc.
I thought Abbie Cornish did a wonderful job as Fanny--I am predisposed not to like Fanny but she overcame my long-term prejudice against the woman who broke Keats's heart. She was a sweet sister, a dutiful daughter, a pragmatic yet romantic young woman (i.e., a nice mixture of sense and sensibility), with a feisty streak. In a way, I wish Bright Star had been more about her and how one of the world's greatest poets touched her life and heart and then was gone. I guess that's what it the movie ultimately was, but the tag line to the movie about how she walked alone for a long time after Keats died was just too sappy for me. I would have rather seen how Keats affected her--how she handled her loss. The movie should have had Keats dying in the middle and then it could have showed how Fanny dealt with it and grew up and moved on, but was still steadfast and true.
You see...I am ambivalent about this movie, to the point of rewriting it!