Normally, I am not exactly what you would call a fan of Jane Campion’s films.
But a few weeks ago, I went to the theater and gave her latest film, Bright Star, a chance. Mostly because Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times’ resident film critic, gave it a simply glowing review … and Turan is rather known for not giving glowing reviews.
I went in with my nose firmly placed in the air, ready to massacre what I was certain would be a self-important, purposefully ‘arty’ picture. And, suddenly, about an hour into it, I realized that I was crying … for no apparent reason at all. It was simply a matter of an unexpected, rushing wave of emotion sweeping over me, and I was caught in its riptide, helpless to resist. The same sort of feeling one gets when reading a challenging poem: the initial distrust, and then, bang, the thrust of emotion that leaves you thoroughly winded … and utterly in love. Rather like a Keats poem, to be honest.
Which is why Bright Star, the delicately beautiful film about the famous love affair between the young John Keats and Fanny Brawne starring the exquisite Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw, is so powerfully sensitive and entirely effective. It feels like a poem … not like someone pushing poetry down your throat which, I’m sure you’ll agree, makes all the difference in the world.
Rapturous in its realism, Bright Star feels and breathes and seethes with life and love and beauty. The early 19th century has never been so extraordinarily organic. Even though just a spectator in 2-D, the film pops with color, and vibrancy—we feel the flush of wind on Fanny’s fabric, the fragility of Keat’s coat collar, the quiet sunlight over a field of lavender, the warm breath of a tentative kiss… it is something rarely achieved on screen with such mastery, and my previous issues with Ms. Campions’ pretension have been duly sated.
The film itself is not likely to make a dent in the coming awards season, such is the lot of films of its beauty and weight, but if there’s one thing sure to seduce Academy voters it must surely be the exquisitely artful use of costume. The fabric of Miss Fanny Brawne’s clothing is as much a part of the film’s tapestry as Fanny herself … below are a few of what I consider to be the highlights ….