There’s a reason some people find the state of contemporary romance films dull, trite, and unwatchable, and for the most part, I’m one of those people. But in the hands of master filmmaker Jane Campion (whose best work is still the bloody skinemax-tastic In the Cut), the tired and staid genre is given fresh life with Bright Star.
Quiet energy radiates from the impressive cast: the beautifully fey and almost disturbingly rail thin Ben Whishaw as poet John Keats and the refreshingly non rail thin, spirited and (please forgive me Reese) quite pretty Abbie Cornish as the love of his life, Fanny Brawne. Filling out the cast – to my complete surprise – was Paul Schneider as fellow poet Charles Armitage Brown, whom you might recognize as Mark Brendanawicz from Parks and Recreation.
So many historical films feel like little more than tight-lipped actors in big costumes pontificating in period accents on museum sets, but there’s a lived-in, natural feel to the settings and the incredible clothing (multi buckle flats and three tiered ruffle collars, please make a come back!) of Bright Star. But don’t get me wrong, Campion’s vision of the period is characteristically stylized and visually romanticized. Crisp white curtains billow with spring breezes from every window, exquisitely serene and simple bedrooms look like paintings of dignified restraint, every garden is overgrown with the most sumptuous wildflowers.
Her signature touch elevates the sometimes slow (it’s just way too long) but sometimes heart-twitteringly romantic (couldn’t help but get flushed watching the first kiss) tale of love and heartbreak that’s been told in some way or another a million times (guess who’s going to die? The one that went out in the cold and came back with a cough!).