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Hollywood Rewind | Bright Star: The luminous love story of poet John Keats

“Love is my religion — I could die for that — I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet.” These are lines written by the famous English poet John Keats to his partner Fanny Brawne. Alas, they never married because Keats died of tuberculosis when he was only 25. It was during my graduation days that I had become infatuated with poetry, and it was during this time that I not only discovered more elaborately, John Keats the poet, but John Keats the prolific letter-writer as well. Partly based on these letters, filmmaker Jane Campion made her exquisite movie Bright Star in 2009.

The title of the movie is taken from Keats’ poem of the same name which he had apparently written as a declaration of his love for Brawne. The poem is, of course, lovely, but what is perhaps even lovelier (if only slightly) is how the director managed to bring such a story to life on screen. It would have included heavy research, no doubt, especially when all we have is Keats’ letters to Brawne and not the other way around. However, through film and some books, we know that Brawne had a theatrical bent of mind and that she was creative and made her own clothes. In the movie, Abbie Cornish plays Brawne, while Ben Whishaw brings the gentle and intelligent Keats to life. Their portrayal anchors the film. They draw it out from the deep waters of abstraction. While poets’ minds and their poems are intangible, both Whishaw and Cornish bring a certain specific tangibility to them.

There is not much to say in the way of plot here. It is a sad love story that doesn’t come to fruition. However, the sadness comes only towards the second half of the film. Much of the first half (and in fact, the whole film) is a celebration of love – John Keats and Fanny Brawne’s love.

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