This John Keats biopic is sensuously mounted – and still remarkably grounded.
The biopic is not my favorite genre, and biopics about writers, especially poets, are especially suspect. Writing is, after all, a dull profession to dramatize, and the lives of most great writers are nowhere near as interesting as their writing.
In the case of the great English poet John Keats, however, exceptions abound. He died in 1821 at the ripe young age of 25, and his poetry, from the start, was suffused with a transcendent melancholia. He had a great love, Fanny Brawne, and his letters to her are peerless. (Her letters to him do not survive.) Their love affair was like his poetry – not only romantic but Romantic.
This is how Jane Campion, the writer-director of "Bright Star," has chosen to frame the story of Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny (Abbie Cornish). And yet, while portraying their passion as an emanation of their spiritual wills, she also manages to root their lives in the mores and minutiae of early 19th-century England. For a movie so sensuously mounted, it's remarkably grounded.