Bright Star (2009)

Bright Star 1

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music:– Do I wake or sleep?

— John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale (1819)

1819 was the most prolific year of the English Romantic poet John Keats.  Many of his well-known works were created then, two years before his untimely death from tuberculosis at age 25.  His muse was Fanny Brawne, his 18 year-old neighbor, a fresh and self-assured young fashion designer whom he met a year earlier. Untrained in poesy or prose, Fanny Brawne had nothing in common with the brooding poet, but Fate, cruel or kind, instilled in them a burning passion for each other.

Unable to maintain a living financially, Keats was honorable to restrain his love for Fanny, knowing marriage would never be realized.  Yet Fanny’s incessant devotion for him soon won him over.   In a short time, she devoured all of Keats’ poetry, as well as other literary works through the ages.  Their short-lived romance culminated in an engagement.  But they were never married.  Stricken by tuberculosis,  Keats left for Italy in 1820 to seek better climate for his ailing health, knowing that would be their last farewell.

When I have fears that I may cease to be

Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain…

Nominated for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, Jane Campion’s Bright Star is a beautiful tapestry weaving together the visual and the word.  Based partly on Sir Andrew Motion’s biography on Keats, the film depicts the bittersweet romance between the poet and his muse, tragically short-lived yet ever burning bright.

Bright Star 3

Campion has created on screen the dazzling visuals of the master painters.  There are numerous Vermeer moments in the interior shots, all done by the window with natural light seeping in as Fanny sews, makes her laces, reads love letters.  Outdoor scenes are a natural cinemascape reminiscence of impressionist vision.  Like the paintings of Monet and Seurat, hazy and dreamlike, they effectively convey the illusive union the young lovers achingly long for but is teasingly placed out of their reach.

Although never consummated, their passion for each other is no less ablaze.  The film is a clear statement that love is not synonymous with nudity and sex on screen.  Campion has depicted their passionate ardor with sensitivity and restraints.  There are moments of utter quietness, for love needs no language.  There are scenes adorned with melodious vocals and instrumentals, augmenting the yearning within.  Campion is a master of cinematic effects.

The talented Ben Whishaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, 2006) is aptly cast as Keats.  Fanny Brawne is played by Abbie Cornish (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 2007).  Both are award-winning rising stars in their homeland of England and Australia.  Bright Star could well be their breakout work in North America.

Bright Star 2

Paul Schneider (Lars and the Real Girl, 2007) is convincing as Keats’ friend Charles Brown, and what looks like Fanny’s love rival.  A stark contrast in character with the poet, Brown offers much needed tension and conflicts. Fanny’s adorable little sister Toots (Edie Martin) gets some of the best lines. Her brother and chaperone Samuel is played by Thomas Sangster.  But why Thomas Sangster?  The talented young actor who has held his own in such films as Love Actually (2003), Nanny McPhee (2005), and The Last Legion (2007) playing against such calibre actors as Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Colin Firth and Emma Thompson, is put in the background only, with less than half a dozen speaking lines.  There’s definitely a miscast here. (Watch for his role as Paul McCartney in the upcoming John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy.)

While the film is a beautiful testament of a star-crossed romance, compared to Campion’s previous works, I find it lacks the depth and complexity of The Piano (1993, Palme d’Or) and the intensity and riveting effect of The Portrait of a Lady (1996).  I have no problem with the slow pacing of Bright Star, but I do wish to see more dramatic conflicts and deeper exploration of character.  A thing of beauty should indeed bring us joy, or deep emotion, but for some reasons the visual beauty has not come across to me as affectively and engagingly as they are intended.

Nevertheless, as the only woman director to have won the Palme d’Or in the 62 years history of the Cannes Film Festival, and one of three women ever nominated for an Oscar in directing, Campion has much to offer.  I’m excited to see that it looks like the trajectory of Bright Star is one that shoots for the Academy Awards comes next March.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

(Photo Sources:,


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

17 thoughts on “Bright Star (2009)”

  1. A beautiful review. Thanks. I loved this movie. It had humor, joy and beautiful scenery before the sad ending. I felt as if I was a part of the family scene, which made it all the more poignant when the lovers were eternally parted. And importantly, a cat played a significant role in the emotional life of the family. The movie inspired me to get out my book of Keats’ poetry and to try my hand at writing prose that might be a little more lyrical than usual. I don’t know whether I was successful.
    I checked out some of the technical details of the movie at


    1. Cathy,

      “I felt as if I was a part of the family scene…” that says a lot about your response to the film. Thanks for mentioning about the family cat, that’s a great point. One thing I planned to write but forgot is the scene with the butterflies in the bedroom, fluttering and landing on them, just exquisite… and the contrast, Mrs. Brawne sweeping up the dead ones later. Apt metaphor for their love and great cinematic effect. But don’t think I’ll add more words to an already long post now. Trust readers would read the comments too.

      Yes, is the site I go to often to check my facts. BTW, all my movie reviews are listed there under ‘external reviews’ on the left sidebar of a movie.

      Thanks for sharing!


  2. Another one to add to my list.
    Have a lovely week!!


    I don’t know what happened with WordPress but your comment needed my moderation and your Avatar isn’t showing. But we all know you and I thank you for stopping by. Have a good one yourself!



  3. Lyricism, poetry, stunning visuals – but no mention of the cat?! Love stories are all around, but cats usually get consigned to kids’ books, cartoons and grumpy, off-hand remarks. The cat intrigues me.

    On the other hand, your review delights. You have such a wonderful ability to condense rich, complex texts and make them comprehensible.

    I was especially struck by this: There are moments of utter quietness, for love needs no language. Two things come to mind. One is that silence can be palpable, almost a third party in the room. Lovers, parents and children, solitary writers, researchers or workers absorbed in their tasks – all can be enveloped in a silence so profound it’s almost visible.

    The other thought is that love itself is a language. Glances, sighs, touch – all of those suffice when words fail.

    And lest you be wondering – yes, ma’am, it is pouring down rain! I have a whole day to catch up with all things bloggie!


    1. Linda,

      Remember I have ailurophobia… sorry all you cat lovers, but I try not to mention about this one. Anyway, there’s one thing I did forget, it’s butterflies. Fanny tried to create a butterfly farm in her own room and oh, how beautiful and fragile they are, perfect metaphor for their love.

      Anyway, so glad to have you around all day.


  4. Oh Arti, such a lovely review of this beautiful movie – I too ran for all my books on Keats to freshen my memories..I also had the pleasure of visiting Rome two years ago and literally breaking into tears at his grave [thus completely emarrassing my husband!], and the Keats -Shelley house next to the Spanish Steps [where he died – they show it briefly at the end of the movie] is a treasure.

    I saw this movie with my daughter, not many people in the theater, but no one moved when it was over – we all just sat there, strangers, but united in some way, as one of your commenters noted, that feeling of being part of this family that was grieving so – it was visually beautiful and emotionally draining and I loved it! and even though you know how this ends, the playing out of their love was a story wanting to be told and Campion the one to tell it.

    Thank you again for this review – as always Arti, you put it all into such stunning language.


    1. Deb,

      I can see it must have been a moving experience, visiting the Spanish Steps in Rome! The scene of Keats’ funeral is sombre and haunting, with that overhead shot looming over a grey overcast sky. It’s so vivid I can still see it clearly in my mind. I saw the movie twice, and in between, yes, you guess it, read Keats’ poetry.

      Thanks for sharing!


  5. *sigh* I do so want to see this one; I loved The Piano (did Campion also have a hand in the roller derby movie–or have I confused your reviews, in which case I apologize). As for restraint, that seems apt,”Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter…” I agree with Linda–love can have its own (silent) language.

    Oh, and as I geekishly looked up the line quoted above, the first page that opened was to this poem: “To Mrs Reynoldse’s Cat.” I think your dislike of all things feline was shared by the author!

    Only you could find Vermeer in a contemporary movie–and the perfect still to prove it! Thank you.


    1. ds,

      Yes, of course… Keats’ own lines from Ode on a Grecian Urn! Thanks for suggesting the association to restraints… “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter…” how appropriate to describe those scenes in the movie!

      The roller derby movie ‘Whip It’ is by Drew Barrymore.

      As for the feline family, it’s not that I purposely choose to take issue with them, it’s all biological (or is it psychological?)… ever since I was a child.

      Vermeer moments are easy to spot, it just takes a window.

      Thanks for your comment!


      1. Arti, I’m sorry. I did not intend to sound as though I were belittling your very real fears (I have a few of my own); quite the opposite. The poem reads as though Keats shared them.

        Drew Barrymore. Thank you. And after only a week…Love that it only takes a window to see Vermeer moment. One that isn’t smudged. (I got my own post wrong yesterday & only noticed tonight. Must. Find. Windex.)

        Trust you are having a better week than me. Thank you for your patience!


  6. I’m really looking forward to seeing this! I’m glad to hear it’s a beautiful film, and I’ll be prepared for the slow pacing, which doesn’t generally bother me all that much. This will be a real treat!


    I think you’ll enjoy it… the literary woven naturally with the visuals. I think it was just me, not feeling as engaged as I wanted to. But Jane Campion deserves our support.



  7. Arti, I had read about this one in VOGUE magazine a while back.
    Glad Campion is back at work and there is no way that I can NOT see this one, despite any strengths or weaknesses.
    As always, you got the true goods on stuff and though I haven’t been around much this week in blogworld, I had to stop here!!!!


    Thanks for stopping by!



  8. AH, Arti, you wrote this review before I found your blog. I adored this movie so much that I saw it twice (second time to take my mum and aunt) – you’re welcome to check out my review if you like and see what you think.

    Love your Vermeer reference.


    you’re so welcome to explore my older posts… I’m sure you’d find some interests we have in common. Yes, I’ll stop by your blog to read your review… Abbie Cornish, she must be very popular in your country?



    1. Yes – to a degree. I think she’s one of those hard-working actors that is known for her work rather than for being a celebrity and these days it’s the celebrities that make the most news. I thought she was great in Somersault. I have Candy here on DVD, but haven’t watched it yet. (I will continue to potter around your blog in coming days and weeks). I should review more films, but while I review everything I read, I don’t do the same for films, concerts etc. I just do those when I feel moved or inspired too. It’s, partly, a matter of time too.


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