“Bright Star” recounts the love between poet John Keats and seamstress/designer Fanny Brawne, cut short by Keats’ death of tuberculosis at 25. The Examiner spoke with award-winning director Jane Campion (“The Piano”):
What about Andrew Motion’s biography of Keats inspired you to make “Bright Star”? [Writing to his brother,] Keats’ intimate description of Fanny is not the kind lovers give, it’s sort of playful, he criticizes her, but comically if quite severely, and that made me sit up. That is so not sappy, so not how you think of the Romantics. I found their love affair absolutely heartbreaking for its purity and innocence, for the courage that these two people had in choosing each other and never giving up, which was going to cost them a lot. She was going to lose her loved one, he was losing his life just as he was finding it.
In light of your own tragedy [editor’s note: Campion’s 12-day-old son died in 1993], was the element of loss another factor you connected with? Maybe. I don’t know, maybe. I don’t know. I think why the story remained attractive to me was that it had a scale which was very sensitive and very tender, as opposed to boisterous and rough. And I guess I like myself better when I become aware of things more gently. I think sensitivity is one of the great human capacities.
Did you share fellow New Zealand writers’ ambivalence about being forced to study the British Romantic poets? I did. They were labeled “great” … in a way that was oppressive at school; reading the biography, I discovered Keats as a real person. His poems travel like the mind does, in and out and around things. He had the deep-great sensitivity, the good-balanced heart of all great people.
One male reviewer wrote, “As she grows familiar with Keats’ talent for words, Brawne herself develops a creative streak” — obviating the quick wit and design artistry Brawne demonstrates pre-Keats. In fact, rare negative reviews of the movie have come from male writers with complaints to the effect: “Where’s the sex?” Have you seen gender divide in the reviews? I don’t read reviews because it’s none of my business at that point. To those people, I feel like saying “go have your own sex!” In this story it wouldn’t make any sense.
IF YOU GO
Starring Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox
Written and directed by Jane Campion
Running time 1 hour 59 minutes