RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And now we're going to hear about the latest work of an Oscar-winning filmmaker. Jane Campion, best known as the writer and director of "The Piano," hasn't released a full-length film in six years. For critic Kenneth Turan, "Bright Star" is more than worth the wait.
KENNETH TURAN: "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 of 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 is both passionate and restrained.
This romance 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, who will do almost anything to keep Keats away from someone he views as a lightweight, who makes a religion out of flirting.
Essential to Campion's success is the superb work of Australia's Abbie Cornish and Britain's Ben Whishaw, who Campion boldly cast as inseparable lovers without their having met each other. Her gamble paid off. Though not widely known in this country, the performers' naturalness and ability win us over completely. And they so know how to be in love on-screen that they make this chaste relationship burn like fire - even when the two can only communicate by letter.
(Soundbite of film "Bright Star")
Ms. ABBIE CORNISH (Actor): (as Fannie Brawne) Listen, I love you more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake. I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a poem and to be given away by a novel. Mama, don't be cross. When I don't hear from him it's as if I've died, as if the air is sucked out from my lungs and I'm left desolate. But when I receive a letter, I know my world is real. It's the one I care for.
Nothing human can keep these two apart, especially 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 us from first to last, even though history has told us exactly how this tragic tale will end.
MONTAGNE: The film is "Bright Star." Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.
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