Bright Star: In lone splendor


Bright Star was first on my list of films to watch over the holidays, what with it’s focus on Romantic poet John Keats and his relationship with Fanny Brawne. Coincidentally, it also stars Ben Whishaw as Keats. What fuelled my desire to see the film was that I had always listened to Whishaw’s reading of “La belle dame sans merci” from the film, and absolutely loved it— needless to say, I was looking forward to more.

I feel that ‘beautiful’ is such an easy adjective to use. Anything can be beautiful. And yet if there was one word to describe the film as a whole, it would be– beautiful.  (However, I will attempt to use other adjectives as well)

The entire film is lovely, sweet, delicate, and somehow manages to be fragrant. Abbie Cornish is a fantastic Fanny— fiesty, strong, yet still naive and young— and you’re not sure who you feel more sorry for— Keats, dying from tuberculosis at 25 while engaged to be married; or Fanny Brawne, having to go on without him. Her sobs when she broke down upon hearing the news were ragged, broken, and excruciatingly real. Keats, who is more calm as opposed to Fanny’s vivacity, is played to soulful and tormented perfection by Ben Whishaw, as he struggles with his writing, with his financial situation, with his illness, and with his strange attraction for the candid girl next door.

Keats and Fanny meet in a short scene, but it’s quite wonderful and revealing. We see Keats’ humour, the mutual fascination between the two.  And what may be my favourite scene, when they wander down the path and sit within the trees. Their kisses are soft, delicate, and incredibly intimate. Their voices intertwine like music. And really, it is the human voices that are the soundtrack of the film, with Keats’ and Fanny’s beautiful letters, his poetry, and even the way he speaks— it’s all very lovely.

And what I love about Keats in Bright Star (as I don’t know if it’s exactly what he was like in reality) is that, though he is a tormented Romantic poet, he’s also fun.  His attempt at a Scottish jig will never cease to make me laugh.  Ben Whishaw perfectly captured the tragic and the comedic in one complex individual.

More on Keats– I adore the way he spoke. Even his everyday language was extremely poetic and with so much feeling.  In the scene where he is angry with Brown and Fanny, and he is so incredibly frustrated, and yet when he pushes Brown into the tree, he says:

There is a holiness to the heart’s affections you know nothing about–

And the sheer agitation in his voice (Ben Whishaw has one of the most clear and beautiful voices I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing) and the pain in his eyes and face took my breath away.

The only Keats poem I had read prior to watching Bright Star was “Ode to a Grecian Urn“, which I liked, but, it was so oft-used in school that it seemed to lose its splendor.  I am quite grateful to the film for introducing me to the beauty of his other works, as well as his wonderfully written letters.

It felt wrong that Keats should pass in Italy rather than at home with Fanny by his side, but of course this did happen. I only wish he could know how appreciated his poetry is today.  As a whole, it is a wonderful film with beautiful performances, music, writing, and exquisite moments of bliss and sorrow.