Bright Star (film)

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Bright Star
Bright star.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jane Campion
Produced by Jan Chapman
Caroline Hewitt
Written by Jane Campion
Starring Ben Whishaw
Abbie Cornish
Paul Schneider
Kerry Fox
Thomas Sangster
Cinematography Greig Fraser
Edited by Alexandre de Franceschi
Distributed by Apparition (USA)
Warner Bros. (UK/France)
Release dates
  • 15 May 2009 (2009-05-15) (Cannes)
  • 6 November 2009 (2009-11-06) (United Kingdom)
Running time
119 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $8.5 million
Box office $14,350,945

Bright Star is a 2009 film based on the last three years of the life of poet John Keats and his romantic relationship with Fanny Brawne. It stars Ben Whishaw as Keats and Abbie Cornish as Fanny. A British/Australian co-production, it was directed by Jane Campion, who wrote the screenplay and was inspired by the biography of Keats by Andrew Motion, who served as a script consultant on the film.[1][2] The film competed in the main competition at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, and was first shown to the public on 15 May 2009.[3] The film's title is a reference to a sonnet by Keats named "Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art", which he wrote while he was with Brawne.


In 1818 Hampstead, the fashionable Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) is introduced to poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) through the Dilke family. The Dilkes occupy one half of a double house, with Charles Brown (Paul Schneider)—Keats' friend, roommate, and associate in writing—occupying the other side.

Though Fanny's flirtatious personality contrasts with Keats' notably more aloof nature, she begins to pursue him after she has her siblings, Samuel and Toots, obtain his book of poetry "Endymion". Despite her efforts to interact with the poet it is only after witnessing her grief for the loss of his brother Tom that Keats begins to open up to Fanny's advances, when he spends Christmas with the Brawne family. After Keats begins to give poetry lessons to Fanny it becomes apparent that their attraction is mutual, however Fanny is nevertheless troubled in regard to Keats' reluctance to pursue her, for which her mother (Kerry Fox) surmises, "Mr Keats knows he cannot like you, he has no living and no income."

It is only after Fanny receives a valentine from Brown that Keats passionately confronts them and wonders if they are lovers. Brown, who sent the valentine in jest, warns Keats of Fanny, claiming that she is a mere flirt playing a game. On the other hand, Fanny, hurt by the accusations and Keats' lack of faith in her, ends their lessons and leaves. It is not until after the Dilkes move to Westminster that spring, leaving the Brawne family six months half rent in their home neighboring Brown, that Fanny and Keats resume their interaction and fall deeply in love. The relationship comes to an abrupt end, however, after Brown leaves for his summer rental with Keats, so that Keats may earn some money. Though Fanny is heartbroken, she is comforted by Keats' love letters. When the men return in the autumn, Fanny's mother shows concern, feeling that Fanny's attachment with the poet will hinder her from being courted. Secretly, however, Fanny and Keats are engaged.

When Keats becomes ill the following winter, he spends several weeks recovering until spring, for which his friends begin a collection of funds so that he may spend the next winter in Italy where the climate is warmer. After impregnating the maid Abigail, however, Brown is unable to accompany him. Though Keats manages to find residence in London for the summer, he is taken in to live with the Brawne family following an incident in relation to his illness. It is here that, after his book sells with moderate success, Fanny's mother gives Keats her blessing to marry Fanny once he returns from Italy. The night before Keats must leave for Italy he and Fanny say their tearful goodbye in privacy, and in February—while still in Italy—Keats dies of complications from tuberculosis, just as his brother Tom did earlier in the film.

In the last moments of the film Fanny cuts her hair in an act of mourning, dons black attire, and walks the snowy paths outside that Keats had walked many times in life. It is there that she recites the love sonnet he had written for her, "Bright Star", as she grieves the death of her lover.



In addition to "Bright Star" several other poems are recited in the film, including "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" and "Ode to a Nightingale". Both Campion and Whishaw completed extensive research in preparation for the film. Many of the lines in the script are taken directly from Keats' letters.[4] Whishaw, as well, learned how to write with a quill and ink during filming. The letters that Fanny Brawne receives from Keats in the film were actually written by Whishaw in his own hand.

Janet Patterson, who has worked with Campion for over 20 years, served as both costume designer and production designer for the film.[5]

The Hyde House and Estate in Hyde, Bedfordshire, substituted for the Keats House in Hampstead. Campion decided that the Keats House (also known as Wentworth Place) was too small and "a little bit fusty".[6] Some filming also took place at Elstree Studios.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

The film garnered positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 82% out of 153 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 7.2 and the site consensus being: "Jane Campion's direction is as refined as her screenplay, and she gets the most out of her cast – especially Abbie Cornish – in this understated period drama."[8] Mary Colbert of SBS awarded the film five stars out of five, commenting that "If Campion intended to inspire an appreciation and rediscovery of Keats' poetry, she has not only succeeded but herself created an artistic monument to his life, love, poetry and soul." Craig Mathieson, in the same review, hailed Bright Star as "Jane Campion’s ... best work since The Piano, her epochal 1993 masterpiece." [9]

The film did not go unnoticed in the poetry world. Poet and scholar Stanley Plumly, the author of Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (W.W. Norton, 2008), wrote of the film's writing and direction: "Jane Campion has understood the richly figurative in Keats’ life without sacrificing the literal wealth of its texture. She has evoked the mystery of his genius without giving up the reality of its dailiness. ... Love, the poems, and Keats’s poorly diagnosed yet terminal illness all move in parallel, though in Campion’s film it is love — made brighter by the intensity of mortality — that defines her subject. But even passion here is understated, as it must have been in real life — given the conventions — for these two intense individuals. The much-reviewed scene in which the would-be lovers, in a bedroom, are speaking back and forth lines from Keats’s newly composed ballad 'La Belle Dame…' surely qualifies as flesh-made-word love-making. The scene gorgeously represents what poetry as well as love are about — the spiritual inseparable from the carnal."[10]

Box office[edit]

Bright Star grossed $3,110,560 at the box office in Australia.[11]





Lakeshore Records released the soundtrack for Bright Star digitally (iTunes and Amazon Digital) on 15 September 2009 and in stores on 13 October 2009. The film's soundtrack features original music by Mark Bradshaw with dialogue from the film voiced by Cornish and Whishaw.[12][13]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Negative Capability" – 3:55
  2. "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" – 2:28
  3. "Return" – 0:58
  4. "Human Orchestra" – 1:48
  5. "Convulsion" – 0:52
  6. "Bright Star" – 1:49
  7. "Letters" – 3:49
  8. "Yearning" – 2:24
  9. "Ode to a Nightingale" – 5:24

Book of Love Letters and Poems[edit]

A collection of Keats's love letters and selected poems, titled Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne, was published in 2009 as a companion to the motion picture. The 144-page book was published by Penguin and includes an introduction written by Campion.[14] The content of the book is as follows:

Letters from John Keats to Fanny Brawne[edit]

  • I-IX: Shanklin, Winchester, Westminister
  • X-XXXII: Wentworth Place
  • XXXIII-XXXVII: Kentish Town – Preparing For Italy


  • 'Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art'
  • The Eve of St Agnes
  • A Dream, after reading Dante's Episode of Paola and Francesca
  • La Belle Dame sans Merci. A Ballad
  • Ode to Psyche
  • Ode on Melancholy
  • Ode on Indolence
  • Lamia
  • 'The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone!'
  • What can I do to drive away
  • 'I cry your mercy, pity, love – ay, love!'
  • To Fanny
  • 'This living hand, now warm and capable'


  • Sketch of John Keats sleeping (28 January 1821) by Joseph Severn
  • Silhouette of Fanny Brawne, after Augustin Edouart
  • Facsimiles of Keats's handwriting, from his letters to Brawne


  1. ^ Michael Phillips, "Talking Pictures" on Retrieved 9 November 2009.
  2. ^ Retrieved 9 November 2009.
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Bright Star". Retrieved 9 May 2009. 
  4. ^ Jane Beal, PhD "Bright Star"
  5. ^ McElheny, Meghan. "Five minutes with Bright Star costume designer Janet Patterson: Editors' Blog". Retrieved 8 September 2010. 
  6. ^ Anita Singh (15 May 2009). "Cannes 2009: film charts John Keats' romance with Fanny Brawne – in Luton". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 15 May 2009. 
  7. ^ "Elstree Studios – Film and TV Search Bright Star". Retrieved 8 September 2010. 
  8. ^ Bright Star. Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  9. ^ Colbert, Mary; Mathieson, Craig. "Bright Star (review)". SBS. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Film Victoria – Australian Films at the Australian Box Office
  12. ^ "Bright Star Soundtrack". Fanbolt.Com. Retrieved 8 September 2010. 
  13. ^ "Bright Star Soundtrack CD". Retrieved 8 September 2010. 
  14. ^ "Bright Star – John Keats – Penguin Group (USA)". 16 September 2009. Retrieved 8 September 2010. 

External links[edit]