Making the Grades
When Charles Brown (Paul Schneider) asks John Keats (Ben Whishaw) to stay at his home during 1818, he is expecting just to house his penniless friend and to tutor the aspiring young poet. But instead of offering a place to work devoid of distractions, his invitation introduces the twenty-three year old author to the beautiful Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), an eighteen-year-old neighbor.
At first there is only a slight curiosity about one another. Fanny is not much of an admirer of literature, and is consumed by her own dreams of fashion designing and dressmaking. John knows he is in no position to be looking for a wife as he is poor and in frail health, Nor is his work likely to provide an income, as it is largely panned by the critics of the day. Yet the two are slowly drawn together, especially as Fanny shows sympathy for John’s brother, who is living in London and dying of consumption (tuberculosis).
As their regard for one another becomes apparent, Fanny’s widowed mother (Kerry Fox) is increasingly alarmed. Meanwhile Charles shows signs of jealousy for Fanny’s affections, as well as possessiveness for his promising pupil John. Despite these strong objections and even forced separations, the couple’s passion for one another grows.
Based on the true story of the romance between what would become one of England’s best-known romantic poets and a simple country seamstress, Bright Star recreates the time period with accuracy and costumes with pure beauty. The cinematography is breathtaking, with various scenes looking like visual poetry.
Unfortunately, the process of penning couplets is as tedious to watch as someone hand-stitching fabric. And as these two activities comprise a large portion of the action in this film, viewers may find the plot rather laborious.
Parents may also be concerned about the obsessive nature of Fanny’s attraction to John, which includes melodramatic antics and verbal references to wanting to kill herself. While there is never any indication of a sexual relationship between them (they do kiss and caress), the script does allude to one between other characters, and even the conception of an illegitimate child. Also, blood is shown when a man suffers from the affects of a devastating disease.
Yet for those who appreciate John Keats, and particularly the words of his poem Bright Star, this masterfully crafted movie does pay tribute to the life trails of a tragic man who feared he’d leave no lasting legacy.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Bright Star.
Tuberculosis, which was often called Consumption, was almost an epidemic during the 1800s. Although not much was understood about the disease then, it was believed to be contagious. Why do you think John Keats took the risk of visiting his brother? What does that say about his character? What other people put relationships before their own health?