(2009) dir. Jane Campion
viewed: 11/17/09 at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, Berkeley, CA
Jane Campion’s new film about the English poet John Keats and his love affair with Fanny Brawne is a lovely sensual yet naturalistic film about love. I have to say, that writing about a film whose topics include poetry and love, heart-rending tragedy, and romantic drama, is not something I find myself doing too often. But this is a film of great beauty and maturity, a film that makes poetry stand, where it could so easily and often fail. And the film evokes poetry of its own, magical, laconic, pastoral images of the natural beauty of the countryside and the tremendous beauty of love.
It’s kind of hard to write that and sound like I mean it, but I do.
For whatever reason, I hadn’t seen much of Campion’s work over the years, but after watching An Angel at My Table (1990) and now having seen Bright Star, she has evolved in my perception, a truly remarkable filmmaker. I am queueing up her other work as I write.
The cast of the film, Ben Whitshaw as Keats, Abbie Cornish as Brawne, Paul Schneider as Keats’ friend and supporter Charles Armitage Brown, and far beyond that is brilliant. Campion gives great life to the smallest of characters, Brawne’s brother, who rarely speaks, voices his performance through his body and looks, and the wonderful younger sister of Brawne, “Toots” is played by the ginger-haired Edie Martin, a warm and beautiful performance brought out from the child.
I think that the most heart-breaking moment for me in the film is when “Toots” kisses Keats goodbye at the family dinner, in which Brawne’s mother, also beautfully played by Kerry Fox, accepts Keats’ engagement to Fanny, welcoming him to the family despite his poverty and ill-health. He is dying of tuberculosis, and about to go to Italy for his health at his friends’ behest. They all unspeakingly know that this will be the last time that they will see him. And little “Toots” hugs him and tells him that she loves him.
You know, it is hard to write about this and not sound like a mushhead. But it’s as I said, the rarest of films about love and death, a film as romantic as its subjects, painting images of butterflies captured in a bedroom, a magical world, whose life is as brief as Keats’ own. It is much about that beauty, everlasting beyond death, yet aware and accepting of the change that death brings.
The film embodies this view from Keats’ Endymion:
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”
Keats’ life, his work, the love affair of Keats and Brawne, and the film Bright Star by Jane Campion, all things of beauty.
Forgive my sappiness for one day.