Sunday, September 08, 2013

Bright Star, a movie by Jane Campion

In the three years before his untimely death in 1821, John Keats was in love with Fanny Brawne: he saw her as "the very symbol of beauty, the reconciliation between real life and his poetic". Although there are those who say that it is impossible to write well while in the throes of deep emotion (Thomas Mann for example), Keats probably needed this emotional life in order to flower as a poet: his last poems are often said to be his very best.

This movie shows these last three years, although the primary point of view is that of Fanny: we are never with Keats without her, and when he goes away (to the Isle of Wight and then, ultimately, to Italy) we stay in Hampstead with Fanny. Indeed, there are a couple of suggestions made that Fanny is the Bright Star of the title, and for Keats she probably was, but is she the Bright Star of the poem?

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

It seems more like he himself wants to be the Bright Star, which given his illness and the death of his brother at about the time he wrote it, makes sense.

Anyway, the movie starts with Fanny, we see her at her work in which she takes a good deal of pride and seems to be very skilled
It soon gets to their meeting. Although there is talk of Keats as a bit of a joker, the movie seems content to make this point by having him play an initial joke, but then tends towards the serious and sombre. One other moment of humour comes in these early scenes. Keats has just published Endymion. To make the point of its lack of commercial virtue, a bookseller moans that he has ordered 20 copies when he is unlikely to sell any. Fanny sends her sister in to get one, so that "she can read it first to see if he is an idiot or not". Of course, there is plenty of poetry recited, as well as talk of how poetry is: Keats basic take is that it must come naturally or one is not a poet.

Poor old Keats: at about half an hour in, he says he is not sure if he has the right feelings towards women, is suspicious of his feelings, is attracted to Fanny without knowing why, says "all women confuse me" has in reality only ever loved his sister.

This idea of Keats having no money is a constantly repeated motif: he and Fanny's mother seem agreed that since Keats can't provide for Fanny, they cannot marry. Mum thinks that, really, they should not spend so much time together, as people are talking. Keats' apparent best friend, John Brown, also thinks they should be apart, but his concern is that she will interfere with his writing.

He might have his own aspirations where Fanny is concerned: although he tends to run her down and joke at her expense (such as her liking of Milton's rhymes in Paradise Lost: he later makes the point there are no rhymes), he does send an ill-advised valentine, which seems to catalyse things between Fanny and Keats.

But this episode makes things clear for Keats: he talks in terms of a holiness of the heart's affections and they take on the quality of an established item from that time on, taking nice walks on the heath and doing what comes naturally.
Keats goes away to the Isle of Wight to earn some money: Fanny gets a right grump on, is totally miserable without him or any letters, can't get out of bed for five days
"Is this love ... so sore I believe I could die of it". But he redeems himself, writes a letter in which he confesses he wishes they were butterflies, to live but three summer days with her would have more delight than fifty common years could ever contain. He does get a bit heavy: says she has destroyed his freedom, can't enjoy himself properly as weighed down with memory of her and her absence but this doesn't seem to trouble her - she fills her room with butterflies. I think this scene shows a lot with no words being said: Fanny brings her work into Keats' workspace and just placidly sits down, despite the concerns raised about her attachment and its unsuitableness.
(Not that Brown stays long or Keats stays working long! It is no time after that that Brown has Abigail (the maid) pregnant.) But well, it is not to last: Keats comes in out of a storm with a chill, and I knew enough of his history to know that this marked the final act of his life (about 40 minutes from the end) - he gets packed off to Italy for the summer and never returns. Of course, Fanny is as much help to him as she can be, can't give up on him (Brown gets in the way somewhat) and, if only it were possible, would have gone to Italy with him (not even Brown does!). Had a wee tear: at his last meal in London, mum says "Come back, live with us, marry our Fanny" even while wondering if mum knew it was a fairly safe thing to say. Keats is more aware "I doubt we will see each other again on this earth". Pretty sure Fanny suggests they spend this last night together: he is all "I have a conscience". It is kind of nice that this is the last we see of them

The record of Fanny's appearance has her as blue eyed, sallow, somewhat thin in the face - Abbie Cornish doesn't look much like her,
but I could fully get that he'd fall fer her. There is a point at which Fanny is playing outside with her family, with Keats looking out at them:
I fully shared the simple joy and pleasure he took in the scene. I also felt some of her grief when she finally got the news which had to come.
She looked absolutely stunning in mourning, but:
To have her walk the heath reciting his Ode to a Nightingale seemed the absolutely way to finish this marvellous movie.


Blogger Jessie said...

Hello stranger! I saw this a year or so ago - really enjoyed it.

8:36 PM  

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