Bright Star (2009; 2 hrs) is a gorgeous Regency-era movie based on the three-year romance between poet John Keats and his “muse,” Fanny Brawne. Keats is played by Ben Whishaw (who looks like he could blow away in a good breeze), while the intrepid Fanny is played by Abbie Cornish.
Now, I trust it is hardly a spoiler to say this can’t have a happy ending because of the early end Keats came to, but since you know it’s coming, it’s easier for those of us who greatly prefer the HEA to at least brace for it. Personally, I tend to avoid sad movies like the plague, but this one was worth the Kleenexes because, well, it’s about one of the most beloved poets in English literature, the heroine is wonderful, and the costumes and sets are a Regency lovers’ delight. The story is set in 1818.
My Personal Reactions: Now, I am neither Siskel nor Ebert, and I don’t mean to ruffle any feathers over a culturally enshrined Dead Poet, but my chief reaction to the storyline was: “John, what the hell are you doing?”
I was going to rave on and on about the amazing costumes as they deserve, but I really have to get this off my chest.
I’ve always been a devoted fan of Keats (Who isn’t.) Out of all the Romantic poets, he has always been I think my favorite. But I have to say this evocative and certainly poetical movie cast my literary idol in an unexpectedly unflattering light—at least, for me. I knew about his affair with Fanny, but in the movie, the whole conflict of why they can’t be together in the story hinges on his inability to support a wife and family by his writing—and his refusal to get a J-O-B so that he could’ve married her.
Keats was educated–at great expense–to become a doctor and could’ve made a good living, but no. by the time he was getting out of medical school, he announced that he wasn’t interested in medicine anymore but had, oh, just had to become a Writer. He told his brother (not in the movie) that if he could not study poetry, he would surely die! Ugh.
So, it never struck me until I saw it played out in the movie how absurd it is for a man to be known, revered, and remembered for being a romantic poet while in actuality putting the person who loved him the most second to his art. You see the irony???
I felt like someone needed to send for Sassy Gay Friend to help poor Fanny get her head right.
Piss-poor Attitude, indeed.
Rather than get a Day Job, our great romantic poet makes no move whatsoever to take their relationship to the next level. He leaves all that to Fanny, so that, I guess, he wouldn’t have to risk anything, or sacrifice anything but leave all the risks and sacrifices to her. And then he gives her attitude about “what have you done to me” in terms of his feelings. Humph. Am I going wrong here? Did anyone else here want to smack him, if you saw the movie?
If this part of the movie was based on fact, I can’t help but suspect he might’ve seen Byron making his 10,000 pounds off Childe Harold and saw no reason why it couldn’t happen to him. Why pull out teeth, set broken bones, and deliver babies when you can be rich and famous and the toast of London and sleep with anyone you want.
And so, the immortal poetry suddenly begins to ring a little hollow. Why a sensible girl like Fanny allowed him to get away with that, who knows. What could she do? It was the Regency period, and she didn’t have a dad to make Keats man up and marry her or go away. (By the way, Sassy Gay Friend has other vidoes on Youtube. Look him up, they’re great.)
Perhaps the storyline was altered from real life to make the movie more interesting. All I know was that it made me want to go back in history and shake some sense into him, and tell him to get his priorities straight. Maybe if he would’ve lived longer he would have had the chance to outgrow this immaturity.
In fact, there is a scene in the move that I think was intended to seem greatly romantic (where Fanny is reading one of his love letters during an absence). It does an excellent job of reminding you what it’s like to be about 17 and sicky-in-love with your Boyfriend. The erstwhile sensible Fanny becomes so distraught and “Like Mom you totally don’t understand me–you’re so shallow!” that I LOL’ed. You can see by widowed Mom’s face that she’s been through more in life than Fanny has yet begun to grasp.
Once the relationship is established, the passivity and strange powerlessness of John seems to spread to the previously assertive Fanny so that she does not take the action I thought that a heroine ought to have taken at the end, making a certain trip (avoiding spoilers here). Yet despite the disillusionment with my poet idol and this fleeting moment of annoyance at the heroine, who I otherwise adored, I was fascinated by this movie.
See what you think. The storytelling is very good, the pacing is good for a quiet movie, the acting is excellent, and the visuals of it all are breathtaking and richly textured. The Regency costumes are to-die-for, and I noticed in the Bonus Material on the DVD that apparently the job of Costume Designer and Set Designer was given to the same person, an unusual situation, but one that has obviously added to the visual unity of every frame. The palette is so beautifully well harmonized and perfect for that Regency feel. I really enjoyed this movie and will watch it again. It just led me to see Keats in a different, not quite as favorable light as I had previously thought of him.
Have any of you seen Bright Star already? What did you think?
If you haven’t seen it yet, there are other movies about the lives of poets and writers these days, as well, like Becoming Jane or the older film, Haunted Summer, or even Shakespeare In Love. Care to share your musings on the lives of the great writers in any of these films?