Bright Star has all the makings of your typical frothy period romance, but director Jane Campion wastes no time in proving that it is, in fact, the exact opposite of that. We meet feisty Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) right away, and her love of outlandish fashion and outspoken attitude makes her an immediately interesting protagonist. Fanny soon meets poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw), and despite their initial conflict and the fact that Keats earns virtually no living (thus preventing them from marrying), the two soon fall in love.
Everything about this movie is gorgeous. It’s beautifully shot, and every scene stands out as an artistic reflection of the emotions of the two young lovers. Interior shots add a perfect spill of light coming in through the window, while the scenes that take place outdoors are full of the vibrant colours and textures of nature. The languid feeling that rests comfortably on every scene feels like Campion’s signature on the film.
Stars Cornish and Whishaw are both fantastic in their respective roles. Cornish plays every facet of Fanny’s emotions with an honest mix of innocence and wisdom. Her sheltered world is blown apart by the artistic genius that unassumingly steps in, but Cornish’s Fanny is a worthy match for Keats’ enigmatic intensity. Whishaw never feels like he’s playing a typical biopic role. It doesn’t feel like we’re watching an actor portraying John Keats – it feels like Whishaw is John Keats. He’s a complicated individual, and though there’s an ever-present mystery to Keats, there’s enough genuine charm and heart in Whishaw’s performance to get the audience to become completely attached to the figure.
There may not be quite enough plot to stretch the movie out to two hours, but the simple story develops nicely over the course of the film, and the gorgeous visuals and multi-faceted performances largely prevent the film from dragging. It’s slow, dramatic and romantic, and that’s exactly how this story should be.
Despite being set in the past, Bright Star feels very modern, in many ways. The prim stuffiness of films like Becoming Jane is nowhere to be found. There’s a sexual tension that runs throughout, and the chemistry between Fanny and John crackles in the simplest of gestures – just knowing that they’re on the other side of the wall from each other creates a spark that full-on sex scenes in most movies lack. I came to care so deeply for these two characters and their relationship over the course of the film, and it truly is one of the most romantic films in recent years. I almost never cry at movies, but Bright Star had me welling up at various points, and it left me thinking about the story for days. Thanks to strong visuals, writing, and acting, Bright Star is a strikingly beautiful, engrossing film.