LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE LADIES: This month Friday Film Review will be dedicated to showcasing films with strong females themes. First up is Jane Campion’s highly undervalued film from last year Bright Star.
BRIGHT STAR (2009)
Starring Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw
Written an Directed by Jane Campion
Released by Pathe Pictures
Jane Campion is a director whose films (The Piano, Holy Smoke!) have always focused on strong female characters and her latest work is no different. One of the most gorgeous films to be shot last year, Bright Star examines the doomed three year love affair between struggling poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and fashion lover Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).
Fanny Brawne is definitely a breakout role for Cornish, whose previous film work has included roles in mediocre movies (A Good Year, Elizabeth: The Golden Age). Cornish hits all the necessary character beats effortlessly and with such grace that it seems incomprehensible that she was left out of the 2010 Oscar Race.
When we first meet Fanny, we see that her bright frocks and elaborately adorned hats was one of the few ways that 19th century women could hope to showcase their individuality. While Fanny jokes with her artist acquaintances Mr. Brown and Mr. Keats that she could make more money with her sewing skills then they will with their poetry, for a woman of her time having a career instead of a husband was absolutely out of the question.
While John Keats is now celebrated as one of the greatest romantic poets of the English language, it was a status he only received posthumously. During his lifetime he was poor and therefore not suitable husband material for Fanny. Both knew this fact as they fell in love so instead of open passion the pair was left with stolen moments, lingering looks and passionate letters.
What makes Fanny such a great film character is that even in the 19th century she is an equal partner in the love affair and not afraid to tell anyone what she thinks. She is not simply the pretty girl who gets courted but actively courts Keats herself, such as when she asks him to give her poetry lessons. And while she can’t declare it publicly she never hides her love for Keats and is firm in her decision when her family tries to persuade her to consider other suitors.
One of Campion’s greatest strengths as a director is the way she handles sexuality. Big points go to Campion and her actors for figuring out how to make such a chaste love story seem sexy in the eyes of a 21st century audience. As beautiful as the cinematography is, the film would be as boring as hell if the chemistry between Cornish and Whishaw wasn’t strong. Thankfully it is, in spades.
Watching the pair hold hands and kiss in the forest or curl up in bed next to each other is so engaging that it almost makes you want to go off and have a doomed love affair of your own.