Jane Campion Shines a Bright Star

8 years ago
Jane Campion Shines a Bright Star


When
I read "Ode to a Grecian Urn" by John Keats in Intro to English Lit at
NYU, it hardly rattled the windows. Yet Jane Campion's recent foray
into the early 19th century English countryside of John Keats (Ben
Whishaw) and his "bright star" muse Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) stuns
the curtains on poetry from that era, or any era, blowing off the dusty
residue.

Jane Campion is a master of filmic art with an
uncanny ability for grazing the boundary that sets apart those who limn
the edges of intimacy. Against the odds of cynicism, she time travels
the Romantic era with close-up plume scratches across parchment and
sweeping passes through fields of violets. In one scene, intricate
branches provide a scrim of lace as Fanny and her siblings traverse a
path; in another, Keats lies on a treetop bower in bloom. The glances,
clever letter-writing and bedside conversation between Fanny Brawne and
John Keats provide an enticing trans-era representation of sexual
banter. Without the sex. Yet the viewer is just as emotionally spent
and intertwined. We've been taken, without an engagement ring, as
metamorphosed butterflies flit about the room.

From the very
first scenes between the two impassioned artists, one an innovative
clothing designer, the other a sensitive wordsmith, "Bright Star"
approaches the mastery of "The Piano" (1993). With a delicate eye,
Campion brings palpable electricity to the first touch between Fanny
Brawne and John Keats. Likewise, their first kiss evokes a pulse more
powerful than most full-on scenes of eroticism.

Campion elicits
unique performances not just from Cornish and Whishaw but from a
supporting cast of poet comrades and Brawne family members. Kerry Fox,
who starred in Campion's 1990 film "An Angel at My Table," delivers
subtlety as a cultivated widow of limited means mindful of her older
daughter's penniless love match, yet awed by her conviction. Remarkable
as well are the siblings who chaperone Brawne and Keats in their forest
walks: the ethereal younger sister Margaret (Edie Martin), nicknamed
"Toots" and a watchful brother, Sam (Thomas Sangster). Paul Schneider
does a witty turn as John Keats' bear-like benefactor and fellow writer
Charles Brown, who competes with Fanny for the poet's attention.

Had
Jane Campion read Keats to our class at NYU, I am certain I would have
heard a different version of "Ode to a Nightingale." "Bright Star"
sings well into the daylight, breaking through windows of poetic
possibility.

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