Bright Star is beautiful in its claustrophobia - despite many outdoor scenes, there is still the feeling that the whole story takes place, if not in a single house, then in a snowdome, Hampstead with a glass case over it. It is not the story of Keats - it is the story of his relationship with Fanny Brawne, and they are stiflingly central to the film. All other characters are incidental, although Paul Schneider's Charles Brown is exceptional. As soon as Keats leaves for Italy, even though several months pass before his death, his absence is notable. Fanny is left forlornly under glass in London, and John has gone beyond the dome; we know he will never return to her.
The film seems to have accurately gauged the relationship; I have always had the impression that Fanny was the bolder of the two, the stronger, and this certainly comes across in the film. Indeed sometimes, Ben Whishaw's whispering little Keats seems to all but fade into the background. I wanted to - thought, even, that I would - fall completely in love with this Keats, but I didn't, and I think it is for that reason. He simply isn't enough of a presence.
The script is well done - this description of what it is to read a poem is wonderful:
"A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be IN the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not 'work the lake out'. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes, and emboldens the soul to accept mystery."There are some beautiful readings of Keats' poetry and letters, and some devastatingly gorgeous set pieces, just as one would expect from Jane Campion. It hasn't touched my heart as much as I anticipated, but nevertheless, I think tonight I shall lie on the rug in front of the fire, and by candlelight read The Eve of St Agnes aloud...