Saturday, October 17, 2009

Movie Challenge Review: Bright Star

Last night I had the opportunity to hit the late showing of the film Bright Star, starring Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish about the life of the poet John Keats. As an English teacher, how could I not go see such a film? Even without that disclaimer, I'm an admitted period drama obsessive. Knowing what I did about John Keats, I was hesitant to see the film, seeing how the film Becoming Jane about sent me over the edge (my disclaimer on that film was that if you are a single female, beware of the closing scene and lines, as they are destructive to your hopes in the future). However, Bright Star had something mystical about it, poetic in its very cinematography that left me crying as many tears over the beauty as over the sadness of the story as a whole.

Let's be honest, Keats is a master poet that every English major becomes intimately acquainted with at some point. I still remember reading "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn" when in high school, and later in college reading "Lines on the Mermaid Tavern" and "To Autumn," which Hugh Grant famously quotes the opening line to while paddling Bridget Jones across a pond in Bridget Jones Diary. His "Ode on a Grecian Urn" particularly caught my attention, as I've always held a fascination and love of Greece. The lines, taken from the opening of the third stanza have always struck me:
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
I've always loved that last line, with its repetition of the word happy, to imbue the emotion to love so that we see that emotion not just as romantic, but as containing an array of bright and wonderful feelings to also describe it. That's how I always hoped it to be! I can't say that Keats was my favorite poet, but I always found his poetry to be bright and precise in its descriptions, whether about nature or a man-made object. His precision has always been awe-inspiring, especially after I learned just how complex poems such as his really were.

Having said that, I actually learned about the film from my mother, who knew this would be a film I wouldn't want to miss. Last evening, my friend Doc and I braved the ensuing depression that we knew would set in, and went to see Bright Star, for which Keats also wrote a poem by that title ("Bright Star").

Synopsis: Centered on the life of poet John Keats, the film captures the supposed love between Keats and Fanny Brawne, who are kept apart because of social and financial standings. As with most Regency Period films, the ideals of social standing and sexual purity pervade the film, intertwined with the angsty beatific language of the poetry of Keats spread throughout. Images of nature and simple objects fill the film and add an additional layer to the tortured, yet short-lived love between Keats and Brawne, before the untimely death of Keats to tuberculosis.

Review: Unlike the film Becoming Jane, in which two lovers are kept apart by social expectations, Keats and Brawne are essentially kept apart by more than just the penniless status of an up and coming poet who can barely care for his own needs than that of a wife. Keats and Brawne seem at odds, initially, in their world view; she is a supposed realistic with her love of fashion, and he is a poet with his eyes to nature for inspiration. Over time, we see that mutual respect and friendship wield the two together, and create a powerful love that neither can deny.

While I can say that I left the theater having shed a few tears, I didn't feel the despair that I did after watching the drama of Jane Austen's life (definitely not a film for the single female to see--the closing lines mention that she and her sister never married). The tears I shed were more for the loss of both people in the relationship, and for the possibilities of what more Keats could have composed had he lived.

In short, Bright Star is a brooding, cinematic piece of art that I highly recommend to any and all Regency Period fans, or to fans of English courses and classic literature. I found the film to honor the work and pain that goes into the creative process really very beautiful, and lends us a bit more respect for the work that the poet put into their work. The shots captured on film were beautiful, and with a PG rating, I felt that they left the love and passion of the couple to be felt through artistic representation and not through gratuity. Overall, a brilliant film, and one that I will definitely be purchasing.

For another great review, see the NY Times review of the film, and for more information on the movie itself, see: Bright Star, the movie site.

This review is also my fourth in the Period Drama Challenge.


  1. sounds really good - I'll have to go and see that soon!

  2. Thank you for this beautiful and so personal review! I so much want to see it, though I know I'll be moved to tears and feel ashamed of myself when the lights will be back at the end! I hope it'll be released soon here too!

  3. My husband and I went to see this last weekend. So good! And your review captivates it all perfectly!

  4. This definitely is one that I would love to watch. Thanks for bringing this one to our attention!! Lovely review!

  5. Sounds like a very interesting movie.

  6. Sounds like a wonderful movie! Will have to keep my eyes peeled for this one, as they don't usually stay very long in my area. Great review! :)

  7. I've been thinking about going to see this one for a couple of weeks now. Looks like it's a must see for us English majors!

  8. I also hated Becoming Jane. Like, with a passion.

    The only Keats poem I'm even passingly familiar with is Ode to a Grecian Urn, and that's because it's an example of ekphrasis. One of my classmates wrote an entire paper about it in a seminar class I took; it was really fascinating.

    Anyway--this movie actually does sound good. But I think I'll save it for a rental so I can shed my tears at home. ;)

  9. I have never even heard of this before! It looks good, though. Great review!

  10. Oh, I so want to see this? Do I drag my husband, or take my daughter? Hmmmm....

  11. K--Definitely!

    Maria--No need to be ashamed of those tears! I had to sit in my seat for a bit after the lights came back on, just so I could collect myself. :)

    Tricia & Staci--Thanks for the kind words, and yes Staci...go see!

    Andrea--More than interesting, for sure.

    Alexia561--I hate when films such as this come and go in a flash! Fortunately I live in a larger area now where I can usually dig them up. I hope it's still around for you!

    Gretchen!!! I wish you could have been here to see it with me. We could have been depressed together! :)

    Heidenkind--ME TOO on Becoming Jane! I basically told everyone I know how stinking suicidal that film makes you feel. You might really like the theater feel though, as many of the scenes have been filmed in a very "art-house" film sort of way. SO good, but sad.

    Kailana--Thanks! Definitely go see it. If you're a reader, you'll appreciate the passion and charm of language and poetry, along with the love story.

    Suey--If your husband hates BBC-type films (although it's not one of those), then maybe not. I don't think it's too mushy to take your husband, but it is terribly romantic in its plot. It made me cry, but still was a great movie! Either way, enjoy!

  12. One of the best dramas I've seen all year! The cast was amazing, and the music haunting. You should check out the film Bright Star’s official site, where they've announced the Love Letter Contest. Those who enter will have to submit a hand-made love letter or love tweet for their chance to win two unique diamonds from A Diamond Is Forever. Find more details here:
    Follow Keat's Tweets here:
    I'm glad Jane campion decided to step back into the director's chair for this one. I don't think anyone else could have captured the heart of the story like her.