Thursday, 31 December 2009


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Hopscotch Films

I apologise for the lateness of my review for this film, the reason for which I shall explain. Sometimes the hardest review to write is the one for a film that you had no strong feelings for one way or the other. A film you love is easy to wax lyrical about, so, too, is one you hate. I'll admit to relishing tearing strips off a film that has royally pissed me off.

But then there are those films that you neither love nor hate. They have their redeeming qualities but they just don't grab you in any particular way. For want of a better word, these are the 'meh' films. Bright Star, I'm sad to say, is, for me, one of those 'meh' films. Well acted, beautifully shot, wonderfully scored and based on a true story (the chaste love affair between poet John Keats and his neighbour Fanny Brawne), it had the ingredients for a promising film.

And I had been eagerly anticipating Jane Campion's new film, her first in six years, not only as a result of good buzz from this year's Cannes film festival but because, since her Cannes prizewinner of 1993, The Piano, I have had a soft spot for this director's work.

Campion's films deals almost exclusively with the female experience. The Piano, Portrait of a Lady, Holy Smoke and In The Cut, have all centred around strong, if flawed, female protagonists. So, too, does Bright Star. While John Keats (Ben Whishaw) is the more famous person, regarded as one of the great Romantic poets, Campion has chosen to tell her story from the point of view of his young muse, Fanny (Abbie Cornish). That is more than likely because she prefers the female POV, but I suspect Campion also wanted to avoid the cliches of the biopic, especially those of the “struggling artist”.

Whatever the reason, Campion has certainly found a worthy conduit in Cornish. The young Australian actress, who came to attention in the 2004 film Somersault, and has been racking up supporting roles in American and English films since, makes the most of the leading role, this young, inexperienced but no less formidable woman. Fanny is enamored with her own clothing creations and readily admits to not wholly understanding Keats' work. But she challenges Keats, winning his admiration and heart in the process.

Of course, their love is doomed with Keats already suffering the onset of tuberculosis early in their courtship. This inevitability may explain why Whishaw plays the poet with a sense of ethereal aloofness; he's certainly not as 'present' as Fanny. Not more than three years after their meeting, Keats dies in Italy and Cornish's reaction to Fanny's hearing this news injects the film with its first and only burst of real emotion. But for me it was too little too late.

But I reiterate: I did not hate Bright Star nor do I think it is a bad film. Romantics, poetry scholars, lovers of period films and admirers of Campion's work may find much more than I to admire in Bright Star and I would urge them to see it. I hope to view it again at a later juncture, and will hopefully glean much more from the experience; perhaps raising my initial 'meh' score to that of a passing grade if not an ode of affection.

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