After the eponymous poem of almost 200 years ago, my review for #DirectedbyWomen is Bright Star. In it, Jane Campion captures a full spectrum of emotion in the last years of John Keats’ life: the magic of love as well as the growing shadow of loss and poverty. Every frame is gorgeous even when portraying the devastating, just as he channelled his pain into poetry. By telling the story through Fanny Brawne, the viewer can see him as those around him experienced his personality – irrational, high-minded and jealous at times, melancholic, sweet and eloquent at others.
Critical reception remained positive in terms of accuracy, though Campion chose a different location, this provided more space to envision rural Hampstead of the 19th century. The attention to detail in the costumes gives an authenticity to Fanny’s character and her ideas of style and status. Her array of frocks perfectly contrasts with shy and shabby Keats who wears similar clothing throughout, uncomfortable with her enjoyment of society, dancing and flirting while he is unable to live so lightly. In focusing on the bridging between their clashing personalities, Campion selected Keats’ most formative era in creative growth and showed a laywoman’s journey understanding the power of poetry.
The second act depicting the letters between Fanny and Keats (some of the first physical evidence of their love) turns their flirtations into serious affection. These scenes are the most stunning: him gazing out the sea and her amidst a field of purple flowers, collecting butterflies with her brother and sister. The simplicity of Mark Bradshaw’s soundtrack complements the spoken word with the breezy imagery, altogether encapsulating the solace they found from the correspondence.
Campion wrote the screenplay incorporating a lot of Keats’ writing, constructing the narrative around the composition of central works most readers know now. In opening with a cloud of harsh criticism for Endymion, she highlights the subjectivity of art: “But I thought the beginning quite perfect”. The framing of ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ alternating between Fanny and John matched the interpretation of the poem as a mythical representation of their relationship: “a lily on thy brow, with anguish moist, and fever-dew” the pallor of tuberculosis and a metaphor of the way he felt blessed and cursed in loving and losing her so quickly.
In the periphery, his friend Brown has a child with impressionable, young Abigail. Though not overly vilified, addressing this with a modern lens was significant. Especially recently, there has been an upheaval of male reputation for the sake of honesty and in refusing to shy away from this exploitative age gap, Campion raises the bar for accurate historical representation.
All in all, with birdsong, butterflies, bees, blossoms, Ben Whishaw and a little black cat – Jane Campion rather alliteratively delivered everything I wanted in a film and gave new life to the poems I’d grown familiar with. But my full respect stems from the fact that unlike a lesser adaptation which could have skimmed over unflattering details, she painted a realistic picture of this marriage of minds without compromising the best of the times with the worst. In the words of Keats himself: “Beauty is truth, truth, beauty.”
By Fatima Sheriff
Fatima is a second year biomed at the University of Sheffield. For insight into her personality, her favourite films are: Bright Star, Paddington 2, Taare Zameen Par and Pride & Prejudice and in 2017 she listened mostly to the Hidden Figures soundtrack. Mainly she is an avid TV watcher, particularly shows with original concepts, witty writing and diverse casting. Examples include Legion, Gravity Falls, The Hour, Gilmore Girls, Sense8... and for more, her Twitter and TVShowTime are both @lafatimayette.
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