Love At First Longing For 'Star'-Crossed Lovers

Abbie Cornish and Ben Wishaw

hide caption"Now a soft kiss ..." A dying John Keats (Ben Whishaw) locks lips with his "stedfast" muse and secret lover, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).

Apparition

Bright Star

  • Director: Jane Campion
  • Genre: Drama, romance, history, biopic
  • Running Time: 119 minutes

Rated PG: for sensuality, brief language and death by tuberculosis

With: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Thomas Sangster, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox

Bright Star believes in "the holiness of the heart's affections." Those were the words of John Keats, perhaps the greatest of England's 19th-century Romantic poets. He met Fanny Brawne — literally the girl next door — when she was 18 and Keats was 23, just a few years before his dreadful death from tuberculosis. The intensity of their connection brought forth some of his greatest work and moved Jane Campion to create this transporting love story, a film that's both passionate and restrained.

Bright Star tells of a romance that makes no one happy — not Brawne's mother, who worries that the penniless Keats cannot marry without funds, and definitely not the poet's friend Charles Brown. Brown will do almost anything to keep Keats away from a woman he views as a lightweight who "makes a religion out of flirting."

Essential to Campion's storytelling success is the superb work of Australia's Abbie Cornish and Britain's Ben Whishaw. Campion boldly cast the pair as inseparable lovers without their having met each other. Her gamble paid off: Though not widely known in this country, the performers act with winning skill and naturalness. Whishaw and Cornish so know how to be in love on-screen that they make a chaste relationship burn like fire — even when the two can only communicate by letter.

Nothing human can keep these two apart, even when circumstances have them sharing the same house and — in a classic moment — simultaneously touching the thin bedroom wall that keeps them apart. It's a tribute to the wonderful language Campion has given them that this film holds its audience from first to last, though history has already told us exactly how this tragic tale will end.

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