Columns by Stanley Plumly

Bright Stars

10.22.09

In his February-May 1819 journal-letter to his brother George, the nineteenth-century English Romantic poet John Keats remarks that “they are very shallow people who take every thing literal. A Man’s life of any worth is a continual allegory—and very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life—a life the like scriptures, figurative—.” To her great credit, filmmaker 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.  Bright Star, her new film about the almost two-year passion between Keats and Fanny Brawne, is brilliant in its discipline and detail, in what it permits to enter their story and what it excuses from exposition.  Campion is as gifted a writer as she is director, and her screenplay is masterful in its extrapolation of the implicit narrative in Keats’ remarkable letters, particularly since what we see on the screen is entirely from Fanny’s point of view: her experience of and with Keats as reflected in his words.

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