Bright Star

Beautiful film. Throws you in love and breaks your heart with exquisite ease. If you do not weep when Fanny learns of Keats’s death, you are not human.

If I have to have a problem with the film, it will be that the Keats I read in the poetry isn’t the one I saw on screen. Bright Star’s Keats is a bit too melancholy, too quiet and thoughtful. My Keats is loud, energetic, boisterous, passionate. He doesn’t think so much as feel. The words in his letters pour out of him with no care for grammar, syntax, even sense. He should be moving, exclaiming, oscillating rapidly between a full spectrum of wild emotions -- rage, despair, obsessive love, jealousy, grief.

There’s also an element of Keats that is a little presumptuous, a little proud. Most of his poetry, on a baseline level, is about him trying to write good poetry -- creating something that will stand up against the works of his heroes. There is something rather self-involved, even arrogant, about Keats. La Belle Dame Sans Merci isn’t really about his love for Fanny, as the film makes out. Even Bright Star, which is, begins with the usual quest for a metaphysical Beauty-beyond-death. But rather than the expected sink into dejection at the chances of achieving such a feat, Keats changed the ending of the sonnet so that he discovers eternity in the immediate. His love for Fanny fulfills the poetic quest for Beauty, at least for one perfect moment. Even so, there is little of Fanny in all this. Keats was much more interested in himself.

My Keats is a lot closer to the film’s Charles Brown. Not the same, for Brown is a bit of a monster. But the film does leave you guessing as to why an outwardly cerebral, courteous and talented poet should hang out with such a gruff, self-important, talentless Scotsman. Maybe the director chose to omit the less romantic (although more Romantic) side of Keats. That’s fair enough, Imo. The film isn’t really about Keats, or his poetry. It’s about Fanny Brawne.

A cliche beginning for a Keats biopic would have begun with delicate close-ups of a quill scratching verses on scraps of paper. Pull out to a mid-shot of Keats with furrowed brow, bent over a desk. Add a cello. You can do the rest. Bright Star, on the other hand, begins with delicate close-ups of Fanny sewing a dress. The film makes an overt connection between Fanny’s needlework and Keats’s versifying. Both are aesthetes, wanting to make something new and beautiful. This is what attracts one to the other. The difficulty is that artistic fields of activity at the time were heavily gendered. Fanny is confined to making dresses, and she feels she has to learn poetry. In fact, she doesn’t need to learn anything. She immediately understands Keats’s desire for escape and fulfillment. She shares it. His poetry, and later his love, can be seen to provide her that escape and fulfillment. She has found something eternal and beautiful. Even after Keats’s death, she has his poetry to sustain her. Walking away from the film, I did feel slightly dissatisfied that she could not get there in her own way. Perhaps that was the point. She had to find perfection in her lover’s work, rather than her own.

Also: Tots is just the cutest thing EVERR!

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