Monday, 9 November 2009

Bright Star

So, I was going to go and see An Education this evening, but was distracted and missed it, and took myself instead to see Bright Star. I wasn't entirely convinced this would be a good idea - I was quite tired and I thought a period drama, no matter how good, may have put me to sleep. I was proven wrong, however.

Jane Campion's latest, her first feature since 2003's In The Cut, bore some semblance in the striking cinematography from Greig Fraser, a relative newcomer of considerable talent (this is only his third feature after The Caterpillar Wish, where I first noticed him, and Out of the Blue, both 2006 titles.) While his lensing has strong similarities to that of the similarly exceptional Dion Beebe (and I shall note that they are both from Down Under) in its use of focus, his work on this film is simply stunning, letting the design, story and acting speak for itself when it needs to, but adding a certain beauty to lift all elements beyond their own individual merit and into something particularly stunning. His work in this film deserves to be noted - as always, from his shorts (which I'm more familiar with), he tends to make me wet in places one shouldn't talk about publicly.

Abbie Cornish is someone I've always found to be a strange one. Something about her eyes makes me not trust her, and there were a number of points in the film where this rang true. She does, however, shine and shine strongly in many points throughout the story, which is indeed one of simplicity, beauty and tragedy, something you might expect. It is the story, ostensibly, of Cornish's character Fanny Brawne, and her relationship with the young John Keats in the lead up to his untimely death at the age of 25, a period when he was writing to no acclaim or fortune, despite the esteem in which he is held now. Of course, love conquers his poverty and all social obstacles standing in the way (including the rubber-armed Kerry Fox as Fanny's very abiding mother, a good performance though I was not entirely enamoured with her accent.) Their love cannot, however, conquer the illness that eventually proves Keats' downfall.

Whishaw's portrayal, which is not really being spoken of, is one that I found quite disarming, not to mention surprising. He brought a graceful levity to the intensity of the poet with quite simple movements and actions - a cheeky, flirty glance up here, a simple fleeting smile there. His humour resonated and lifted the entire film, without it ever feeling like he was trying to bring down the stakes that propelled the story. Fun-loving, loyal, but ultimately a romantic, Keats' poetry felt entirely real and natural coming out of his mouth. While I understand that my reservations about Cornish may be mine alone, and are not limited to this film, Whishaw, for me, was the brightest star (oh yes I did.) Though it should be noted that the two did play off each other perfectly - while I feel he was the character I was more drawn to, he never overplayed Cornish, and I can't imagine the one without the other.

While these elements, with the total design of the piece, were generally perfect, I did struggle with some aspects of the handling of the narrative, with some of the beats in the film and general direction. There were occasional jarring transitions, and moments that I think could have been handled better. So it was definitely not Campion's best work (her oeuvre includes The Piano, after all), but all in all a fine film. The final scene was understatedly powerful, and Keats' words over the closing credits kept everyone in their seats, and I must say that I feel it is worth the film if only for that, though there is a lot more to find in the two hours preceding.

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