[Screen It]

(2009) (Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish) (PG)

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Historical Drama: Poet John Keats falls in love with seamstress Fanny Brawne in England circa 1818, only to have their love affair cut short by his terminal illness.
In 1818 England, the poet John Keats (BEN WHISHAW) is a struggling, penniless artist with no idea of his greatness. His most pressing concern is caring for his brother, Tom (OLLY ALEXANDER), who is dying from tuberculosis.

At the same time, he becomes smitten with his next-door neighborhood, Fanny Brawne (ABBIE CORNISH), a strong-willed seamstress who lives with her mother (KERRY FOX) and two younger siblings. The two are drawn to each other, despite the protests of Keats' friend and fellow poet, Charles Armitage Brown (PAUL SCHNEIDER), an arrogant, boorish man who wants Keats and his talent all to himself.

When Keats also falls ill to the same disease his brother had, his and Abbie's love is put to the test as he wrestles with the decision to leave England for a climate more conducive to his health.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In an age when we judge art by how many downloads a song gets over the Internet or how much cash a film takes in from Friday through Sunday at the box office on its opening weekend, it's kind of refreshing on some level to see a movie about a 19th-century poet who struggles to find just the right word to describe his budding love for a local seamstress way out of his league. That movie is "Bright Star," the poet is John Keats (Ben Whishaw), and that elusive beauty is Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).

"Bright Star" is written and directed by Jane Campion, and it is a solid, respectful film about the life and premature death of the great Romantic poet at the age of 25. Set in England circa 1818, the film opens with Keats caring for his brother, Tom (Olly Alexander), who is dying of tuberculosis and he is a struggling poet with little to no money.

Keats finds comfort and inspiration in his neighbor, Fanny, a headstrong young woman who is drawn to him in the weeks after Tom's death. However, Keats' snooty writing partner, poet Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider), worries that Fanny's flirtatious ways will sap his friend's writing talent. So, he does what he can to distance Keats from her.

Meanwhile, Fanny's mother (Kerry Fox) tries to do some steering of her own, pushing her daughter to make herself available to men with more money and greater social standing. When Keats himself is diagnosed with TB, all concerned struggle to put their differences aside and do what's best for the dying artist.

If you majored in English or some form of Classic Literature in college or just prefer flicks where the hero and heroine aren't called on to perform bed-sheet gymnastics or run down long tunnels fleeing from giant fireballs, this will be an enjoyable night out at the movies for you. Cornish is especially good as the feisty, luminous Fanny, and the costumes she and the rest of the cast are dressed in should be given serious Oscar consideration.

However, "Bright Star" will likely prove too stiff and formal for most moviegoers. Those hoping for the eroticism of Campion's "The Piano," in particular, will really come away disappointed. The two leads are so innocent and inexperienced in the ways of love, I openly wondered what the Victorian England equivalent of two straws sharing a milkshake at the local diner would be. As such, the film only rates a decent 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed September 27, 2009 / Posted October 2, 2009

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