Bright Star, Would I Were Stedfast As Though Art


Bright Star is a film of the ill-fated love between the poet John Keats and the outspoken Fanny Brawne. Their beautiful romance is largely played out against the stunning backdrop of the English countryside; the poetry of Keats could not be better accented than with the bright spring turning fields to seas of lavender or the stark winter cruelly destroying all color and leaving the forest a stark contrast of white snow and blackened trees. The film is beautiful visually, but it is so much more than that. One review wrote, "intelligent and deeply felt" and I whole-heartedly agree. How difficult it is to find a film on romance that does not reduce emotion to a mockery or a film that is manages to be equally touching and clinically well-composed and layered.

The first conversation between Fanny and John foreshadows their romance and seems to describe our lives as well. Fanny praises the beginning of Keats's poem Endymion as being nearly perfect in the beginning, but that the rest doesn't measure up. Their romance has a similar peak, but ends too abruptly and afterward Fanny's life is certain to be a shadow of what she once felt. Director Campion could also be speaking to us of our own lives; we dazzle in fevered youth and then fade into white dwarves...
One of my favorite aspects is how it shows us the family dynamics of that time period, but specific to the Brawne family. Fanny's siblings often act her mouthpiece and errand-runners; doing her will so much you wonder if they have their own. Toots, Fanny's younger sister is frequently the first to spot Keats when he visits and always runs to inform Fanny. Even as Fanny's mother is quietly resistant to the romance, Toots's actions seem to act as their counter: the family does not wish Fanny to be involved with Keats, yet they continually help the lovers meet and become close. We see the emotional upheaval of the romance through the family's eyes nearly as much as by the vision of the lovers. A love story is an ensemble; two romantically involved people don't exist in a vacuum, their decisions effect those around them and vice-versa. The proof of this is seen continually. One example is when Fanny wants a butterfly farm to celebrate her relationship with Keats, it is her siblings who gather the insects and afterward Tooty lies in a dreamy state with the butterflies, a mirror of Fanny's own pose. You wonder how much Tooty is privy to Fanny's inmost thoughts and feelings and how much of her own self is lost in them.
While this film shows the lovers as equally devoted and intense, Fanny Brawne has only been viewed as a sympathetic and long-suffering lover to Keats since the 20th century. She was greatly disliked by Keats's friends and much maligned in his lifetime and after. Many thought she was a malicious flirt and felt that she made Keats look ridiculous. Fanny did marry someone else years after Keats's death, but she kept all of Keats's letters to her until she passed on. Either side of the debate to vilify or saint Fanny Brawne can never have the complete truth of it; they were never Keats or Fanny. So many great romances seem as much mystery as love story.
Bright Star, screencaps by me

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