Movie Review: Bright Star

Bright-Star-2009

Rated PG

Directed by Jane Campion

Starring Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Thomas Sangster, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox

Heidi’s Illustrious Rating: 3

Word of Warning: Young love, while sweet, can also be a bit laborious. They could have shaved a good 20 minutes off this film without losing the sentiment.  

The plot of this movie follows the love story between the English poet, John Keats and Miss Fanny Brawne. In reality, Fanny Brawne was around 16, at the time of the love affair and John Keats was a struggling, penniless poet of 25. Young love is arduously dramatic, and this story is brimming with the woes and heartache associated with young love.  

John Keats, who was never successful during his lifetime, is living with a writer friend named Charles Brown. Brown and Keats move next door to the Brawnes in Hampstead Heath. Mr. Brawnes has died, leaving the family with just enough money to live a comfortable life, however, Miss Fanny Brawne will need to make a good marriage, in other words, she will need to find a man with some money.

While Fanny Brawne has a contentious relationship with Charles Brown, it doesn’t take long before she is enamored with the brooding Mr. Keats. His melancholy is due to his dying younger brother. Fanny is captivated with it all, his prose, his depression, his quiet disposition. John soon discovers his own feeling for the stylish, flirtatious Fanny, and an innocent affair begins, despite the quiet disapproval of Fanny’s mother and the thunderous disapproval of Charles Brown.

While New Zealand director/writer Jane Campion captures the poetic beauty of the English countryside and the anguish of young love, I do not believe Abbie Cornish captures the youth of Fanny Brawne. After all, Abbie Cornish is 27-years-old and Fanny Brawne was only 16. Despite being able to cry like a teenage girl in love, Cornish just didn’t look the part.

You may recognize Ben Whishaw, who plays John Keats, from last year’s “Brideshead Revisited.” In that film  he gave a heart wrenching performance as a gay man struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality in the face of his strong faith in Catholicism. Unfortunately, Whishaw, who is an up and coming English star, delivers an under whelming performance in “Bright Star.”

I adore period pieces – the melodious soundtracks, the sweeping scenery, the witty dialogue – however, I prefer more mature romances, like that of Newland Archer and Countess Olenska in “The Age of Innocence,” or Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson “Room with a View.”

While aesthetically rich, and beautifully directed, “Bright Star” is downright sappy. It’s the story of a romantic poet who died young and the teenager who loved him, so I suppose sappiness should be expected. However, two hours of pure sentimentality was almost more than I could bear.

Note about historical accuracy: After brief research, it appears “Bright Star” is fairly historically correct, however, there’s one point I’d like to make regarding the film’s accuracy. The story leads the audience to believe Fanny Brawne “walked the heath” for the rest of her life, pining for her lost love. This is not true. According to the Web site Englishhistory.net, Fanny Brawne went on to marry and have three children.  

Also appearing in the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor.

5 Comments



  1. Well, I’m glad Fanny didn’t pine away for Keats. They probably didn’t want to put a 16 year-old in the movie opposite a guy who is supposed to be 25 because that would look dangerous to our perverted nation. The 1800’s were different, people!

    I will say that Ben Whishaw is quite a cutie!

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  2. I agree Amy, that is probably why they didn’t cast a younger girl. However, the relationship is quite innocent so I think they could have cast a younger actress without much fall-out. Abbie Cornish comes with too much baggage, and I couldn’t visualize her as an innocent young thing – she’s supposedly the reason Reese and Ryan broke up. I think she was wrongly cast, but boy do those New Zealanders stick together.

    And yes, Ben Whishaw is intriguing, and quite a good actor, but he really doesn’t shine in this one.

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  3. Fanny Brawne met Keats when she was 18 in 1818. She was not sixteen and taking into account the time period would not have been the giddy teenager you seem to expect to see in the film.
    I thought both Cornish and Whishaw were excellent in their roles and the movie is one of my favorites.

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    1. Thanks for the correction RRuin. I looked up Fanny’s birthday and you are right. She was indeed 18 when she met Keats. Thanks for stopping by HeidiTown! I don’t do many movie reviews anymore, but it’s still fun to get the occasional comment on them. This was a beautifully directed movie.

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