…velvet

Bright Star (2009) Dir. Jane Campion

An independent woman and a Romantic poet — a magnetic combination.

Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) is an independent woman. She’s a talented designer, who sells clothes she makes herself. It sounds like a success story of a contemporary businesswoman. The only difference is she lives in 1818, the date marking the beginning of the movie, and for Fannie meeting John Keats (Ben Whishaw), her greatest love. Fanny is like any other young woman: passionate, emotional, and full of hopes and dreams. She enjoys flirting, dancing, and, above all, talking about her designs. Her life seems frivolous, and her time is devoted to sowing solely. She concludes John needs a new jacket: ‘It should be of velvet, blue velvet.’ Everything changes when she falls in love with John. Her life becomes devoted to her relationship with him.

Fanny and John are one of those couples that can’t live without each other. Their love refines them. Fanny stops being a selfish flirt who makes fun of men’s feelings, and centers her attention at John and at understanding and cherishing poetry. John becomes very creative. His poetry becomes inspired by Fanny. However, they’re in a predicament with no possible solution. John is poor, even in debt, and cannot afford to marry Fanny, who’s of much higher social status. Money and position stand between them. They feel inseparable, but the conventions of the times separate them.

Jane Campion gives us many heartbreaking moments: when John leaves, Fanny feels like suffocating, he’s her breath. It appears Fanny is only happy when she’s with John. When he goes away, she’s in pain. The feeling of longing is so real here. She awaits his letters as if her life depended upon it. Towards the end, Campion also gives us a full-blown melodrama. As we known, John Keats dies in Rome at the age of 25. We can imagine what it means for Fanny. Sobbing on the floor in her house, she can’t catch a breath, as if John took it the moment he died. There is no consolation for her. The scene is quite intimate: without any music, we look at Fanny from a few feet, as if from another room. We’re not her, we’re mere observers of her tragedy.

A significant element of the movie is Keats’ poetry. His poems are beautifully interwoven into the story, serving as pleasant interludes between Fanny’s story. They add warmth and light though they are created after long hours of musing, as Brown (Paul Schneider) , Keats’ fellow poet and friend, explains. Spoken in soft voices either by Fanny or John himself, they sound natural and inspiring. Here, the most important is “Bright Star,” through which John fully expresses his feelings for Fanny.

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon in death.
(1819)

Bright Star presents the love story from Fanny’s perspective. Her transformation from a carefree girl to a woman deeply in love and ready for any kind of sacrifice is the focal point. Yet, there is room for discussing poetry. As Fanny’s teacher, Keats explains the nature of writing poetry. He says a poet is the most unpoetical thing, and poems should come as naturally as they can. Although they recite and discuss Keats’ poems, the movie could focus still more on that. Instead, it focuses on a woman who discovers how both delightful and painful love is. She contemplates, ‘Am I in Love? Is this Love? I shall never tease about it again. So sore I believe one could die of it.’ After all, their love and the desire to be together are strong and powerful, yet never consummated.

The movie talks about love and poetry. It proves that these two can’t be separated since one inspires and influences the other. Being graceful and witty, Fanny is a likeable character. But we don’t become her. Instead, we’re more of witnesses of this story rather than participants. Only some of us can identify with her; the rest observe. But this observation, full of colors, fabrics, smells, tastes, exultation and despair, convinces that it is a genuine image of Fanny and John’s relationship.

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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