By John M. Urbancich
There is much to love about Jane Campion’s “Bright Star,” if only it weren’t so darn measured – poetic or not.
Not that the director of “The Piano” ever intends to make a full-blown action picture, especially one that ever so slowly builds on the passionate pairing of bold and brassy Fanny Brawne (Abby Cornish) with thin and frail John Keats (Ben Whishaw).
The two longing young souls are early 19th-century neighbors in the heaving English countryside. Fanny’s a fashion plate – at least for those days – who designs her own threads. John, of course, is the poet whose fame came years after his passing, but soon enough that we all had to read his romantic sonnets in junior high English classes.
The way Campion dreamily reveals it – and her smart screenplay tells it – Keats initially became miffed with Miss Brawne, daughter of a kindly widow (Kerry Fox), over a Valentine she gave him. That episode has the constantly melancholy Keats spewing such loveliness as, “There is a holiness to the heart’s affections.”
A few scenes later, however, the smitten couple is already framed stealing kisses between glances from Fanny’s sis Toots (cute little Edie Martin), or holding hands, or simply walking in magnificent meadows and among textured trees.
Obviously, their love looks very real, and the fabulous Fanny/Cornish becomes suitably devastated when Keats, whose family has a history of various complex maladies, comes down with tuberculosis.
Certainly the inevitable will occur, but not without interference from Keats’ friend and guardian (Paul Schneider), who enjoys insulting Fanny almost as much as his own dalliance with Abigail (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), his maid.
Even as a Scotsman, Schneider, currently seen on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” actually gives a more grounded performance opposite the very special Cornish than the slight Whishaw does. Of course, Schneider’s character can be a lyrical brute, while Keats is ever the tortured spirit
Above both, however, Cornish truly shines as the film’s very bright star.
Studio/Official Site: http://www.brightstar-movie.com/
[John M. Urbancich is a Cleveland-based reporter who has reviewed movies and written film features and celebrity profiles at Cleveland’s Sun Newspapers for 25 years. As a longtime member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, his work has also been appearing on the Sun News website for more than a decade. ]