Bright Star
I much prefer this variation of “Where’s Waldo”.

Golden Mug

Costume Design (Janet Patterson)

Theatrical Release Date: 09/25/2009
Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider, Thomas Sangster, Kerry Fox

When one thinks of writer/director Jane Campion, your thoughts instantly flash to 1993′s “The Piano”. A story of a love that couldn’t be, set to a gorgeous score by Michael Nyman, the film presented a transcendent performance by Holly Hunter and captivated independent film audiences.

With “Bright Star”, the comparisons are bound to be made and there are a number of tonal similarities but one shouldn’t expect an updated version of that singular film. Instead, what audiences will get is a period piece about two people in love, despite the apprehensions of those around them thanks to the eligibility rules that governed relationships in early 1800s England (i.e., a man with no income doesn’t get to ask for a woman’s hand in marraige).

Ben Whishaw plays poet John Keats, who would go on to become one of the beloved writers of the era thanks to poems like Endymion, Ode to a Nightingale and the titular Bright Star. One of the great contributions to those musings, according to the screenplay by Jane Campion (based on Andrew Motion’s biography of Keats), was a woman named Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). The pair would spark a love affair frowned upon by societal norms of the time but perfect for a movie.

Each actor does a decent job though that’s not to say each performance was perfect. Whishaw seemed uninspired much of the time, sort of the opposite one thinks a poet would be like, and Cornish often came across as a petulant child. Her tantrums made the character feel younger than she should and while this sort of emotional outburst worked well in “Somersault“, the roles are too different for the same approach to work.

Also, as the main actors come from three continents, the issue of adopting British accents comes into play. Whishaw is a Brit so no problems there. Cornish is a Aussie so those who don’t necessarily hear the differences in the accents (though there’s quite a lot of variation) won’t get too nitpicky. The weakest link in the chain is Schneider, whose American south heritage and drawl ooze out of nearly every line read. While the arrogance and jealousy that the role demanded of him came through fine, his ability to grasp the British lilt fails quite miserably.

That aside, the production team did a nice job on sets and costumes (especially key considering Cornish’s character designs and sews all her own clothes and is obsessed with fashion). Cinematographer Greig Fraser had already worked with Campion once before on a short film and together they squeezed what romance they could out of the landscape, putting characters in flower fields and contrasting the grimy city with the idyllic countryside. Particularly well done is the score by Mark Bradshaw. While I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed at Campion’s uneven plot development (which starts very slowly and speeds up as the film draws to its end), the music helped to lift my spirits.

If you’re in the mood for a period piece, and everything that entails, you’ll get what you wanted with “Bright Star” and so I’ll give it a 3 out of 5. It’s middle-of-the-road when it comes to the genre and doesn’t distinguish itself in any way but delivers on its premise.