Bright Star Redoux

I did it! I went to see Bright Star, the movie I blogged about a month ago, the movie about John Keats’s love affair with his neighbor, Fanny Brawne . It finally came to two local theaters so Sunday night I finally got to see it.

I liked it very much for many reasons.

It was wonderfully acted. Abbie Cornish as Fanny definitely should be nominated for an Oscar. She had the most expressive face; you could almost tell what she was thinking. Ben Whishaw as Keats was also very good, although I can’t figure out why he was always unshaven. Was that supposed to show he was poor? Anyway, he managed to be masculinely appealing while still sensitive and poetic and sick. Paul Schneider played Brown, Keats’s friend and roommate. He also is said to be Oscar worthy. I was surprised to discover he is an American actor, from South Carolina, no less. He spoke with a very authentic-sounding Scottish accent. In addition to these main characters, even the minor roles were very well done.

The costumes were spectacular, especially Fanny’s dresses. Fanny Brawne designed and sewed her own dresses, so her costumes were beautiful creations. All the costumes were well done, though. I loved the hats and lace caps! I think the costumes in this movie were the most beautiful depiction of Regency era fashion that I have ever seen. Even the shoes were fascinating.

In addition to the costumes, the settings were wonderful. The four seasons were beautifully represented. The snow really looked like snow; the rain, like rain. Details were attended to. Stacks of books in Keats and Brown’s rooms, tea cups and dishes at dinner, the kitchen pots.

I had not expected the movie to be as emotional as it was. It had me trying to hold in sobs!

I thought there were some weaknesses in the movie. It was sometimes difficult to tell what was going on, who some of the people were, and why the scenes skipped from one to the other. If I had not read up on this part of Keats’s life, I would not have understood as much as I did.

The pace was slow. (One of my friends said she started thinking, “Die already, Keats!”) But because the film was so beautiful to look at, I didn’t mind so much.

If I wanted someone who knew nothing about the Regency period to fall in love with it, I’d probably recommend the BBC/Colin Firth version of Pride & Prejudice. But if someone is already in love with the time period, I’d definitely recommend Bright Star.

Have you seen Bright Star? What did you think of it?
Of movies set in the Regency era, which do you think best would make someone new fall in love with it?

I’m hoping my December book, Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady, evokes a rich Regency setting, a great love story, and lots of emotion. The excerpt is now up on my website. And a new contest.

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Deb Marlowe
13 years ago

Oh, it sounds fabulous, Diane! I hope the movie is still around when I get out of the deadline cave!

Thanks for the sneak peak!

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Hi, Deb!
It would be a good reward for meeting a deadline!

Elena Greene
13 years ago

Sounds like I would love it, Diane. Will probably not play anywhere near me–I had to drive an hour to see Amazing Grace when that came out. But there is always Netflix, eventually.

13 years ago

Thanks for the review. I have got to see this movie.

Jerrica Knight-Catania
13 years ago

Great review, Diane! We just saw the movie last week and I have a blog up about it as well. I had some differing opinions, but such is art. LOL! I did enjoy the movie, but I also agree that I might not recommend it to someone who wasn’t interested in the era or at least Keats himself.

I think Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma is one of the most universally appealing of all the Regency-era films. Whenever I mention Jane Austen to a non-Regency lover, they say “Oh, I loved Emma!” Of course, I do too…that’s one of my favorites 🙂

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Jerrica, give us the link to your blog. I’d love to read it (looked for a link on your website but couldn’t find one)

Waving madly to Elena and Kwana. I hope you both get to see the movie. Elena, I think it will lose something in the impact of the setting on DVD, but you might not want to drive an hour to see it on screen. Kwana, you probably have no excuse. It must be playing near you!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
13 years ago

Hi Diane,

I saw the movie about two weeks ago and blogged about with some links to more information about Fanny as well as the Keats museum. I loved the movie and I can’t stand Jane Campion as a director. I thought the same things that you did, that Abbie Cornish was amazing, that Paul Schneider who played Charles Armitage Brown was brilliant at playing a Scotsman, but I too was confused by who the people were who lived in the house before the Brawne’s moved in. Adored Fanny’s brother and sister. Couldn’t believe the actor who played Liam Neeson’s son in Love Actually was all growed up.

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

I admit to Die Already, Mr. Keats! Yet it was an astonishingly lovely film and I loved the acting, particularly Abbie Cornish and the kids who played her brother and sister.

I thought the movie wussed out on what should have been one of its most important themes–the poetry. It reminded me of The Piano which I felt wussed out on the music.

The actors tiptoed around it and were afraid of the meter–I squirmed when Fanny and Keats recited La Belle Dame sans Merci together. Also Fanny did not turn into some Miss Havisham figure, walking the hills of Hampstead Heath in a long black veil etc etc., or at least, not for long. She married someone else, had several children, and died in 1865 at the age of 65.

For a really brilliant and believable depiction of Fanny and Keats, I recommend once again Passion by Jude Morgan.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Same here, Deb! I’m hoping to get to it next weekend, especially after Diane’s review. 🙂 (I meant to go last weekend, but went to a preview of “An Education” instead…)

Jane Austen
13 years ago

I doubt it will come any where near where I live because it doesn’t involve NASCAR or hunting. So I will have to wait until it comes out of DVD.

I think to introduce someone to Regency I would go with the 1995 Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth, but five hours might be a long introduction. I agree that the Gwenyth Paltrow Emma would be good. The Kate Beckinsale version was more Thomas Hardy meets Jane Austen much like the Keira Knightly version of P & P was more Thomas Hardy meets Jane Austen. It also doesn’t have the right clothing because the director hates empire waist gowns. I’d also go for the Amanda Root Persuasion.

Janet, I love Jude Morgan. He really captures the time period and I think he does a marvelous job with characters and development. My personal Morgan favorite is An Accomplished Woman, which I see as a retelling of Persuasion, which has always been and will always be my favorite Austen novel.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

I am not a fan of the Gwynth Paltrow Emma and much prefer the Kate Beckisale version. Paltrow’s Emma is not, IMO, accurate enough for my taste. She runs around with no hat, for instance. If we can’t pick the 5 hours of P&P, then I’d pick Emma Thompson’s Sense & Sensibility. A friend of mine never like Persuasion because she didn’t find Ciaran Hinds an attractive hero. I LOVED Persuasion and have nothing bad to say about it.

Janet, I have Passion on my TBR pile but it is so thick, it seems daunting.

Amanda, you will ADORE the costumes. Make your “modiste” go with you so she will be fired up to sew some of those gowns!

Jane Austen
13 years ago

Diane, will you at least admit that Jeremy Northam makes a better Knightly than Mark Strong? I can understand the no bonnet issue, but I think that Kate’s version focuses too much on the dirt and unpleasantness of the time, which never felt very Austen to me.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Diane, will you at least admit that Jeremy Northam makes a better Knightly than Mark Strong

Actually neither exactly ring my bells. I liked them both the same!

Cara King
13 years ago

Hello, Riskies!

I saw this film a couple days ago. Loved much of it — loved Whishaw’s portrayal of Keats (though I admit I don’t know much about Keats, so I’m just admiring his acting, not the interpretation, which I can’t judge.) I liked the way Fanny was written — as intelligent and headstrong and weird, someone you could imagine capturing a poet’s love without falling into the cliche that “of course he loves her because only she can understand his poetry!”

Though, come to think of it, if that’s a cliche, it’s for good reason (it works very well, and has a lot of truth), so I’ll give the movie points for originality and subtlety, without any negatives about any book or movie that does use that… 🙂

One minor thing that for some reason really bugged me was how the women’s gowns were all cross-laced up the back. As the heroine actually made gowns and talked a lot about them, I was hoping for authentically period clothing construction, I guess… Oh well, minor point!

And I adored Fanny’s brother, BTW! Minor character, but he acts like a saint (unlike most boys of his age) and all the characters in the movie just seemed to take it for granted. He can be my brother any day!


Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“Amanda, you will ADORE the costumes”

I do like that pink bonnet and pelisse 🙂

Keira Soleore
13 years ago

Oh, super. Thanks for your review, Diane. I’m off to see if I can sneak in a matinee when it shows up in my area.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

One minor thing that for some reason really bugged me was how the women’s gowns were all cross-laced up the back. As the heroine actually made gowns and talked a lot about them, I was hoping for authentically period clothing construction, I guess

But I thought Regency dresses did have laces sometimes. Am I wrong, Cara? I’m not an expert on the clothing, though.

Cara King
13 years ago

Diane, I’m not a costume expert, so I can’t say that there never was a Regency gown that had cross-lacing up the back. But my understanding is that they did not yet have grommets as we know them, which meant if one put lacing through delicate fabric, it would likely tear.

And besides, in the movie, some of the gowns she was wearing had gathered bodices, which means that they would not have needed any sort of opening down the back, but would just go over the head and then be tightened (which is how my Regency gown works!)

Plus, I think generally in the period, if one had a fastener that showed, one wanted it to look fancy…such as nice buttons, pretty ribbons, etc. Her fastenings were quite plain…

Anyway, it’s my understanding that this is purely a stage convention, as lacing can be very handy in a stage costume…. I’ve never figured out why film costumers use it, too — whether they just use stage costume books for their historical research and are misled, or whether they know the lacing is inaccurate, but like the convenience of it…

Anyway, that’s my take on it!


Jane Austen
13 years ago

Cara, I would also wonder how much of it is what the director saw as his vision. I know in the Keira Knightly version of P & P none of the girls wear empire waisted dresses because the director didn’t like the way they looked on women. Then there’s the 1940s version of P & P starring Greer Garson and those outfits are way off, but I doubt anyone wanted to argue that the costumes weren’t historically correct to the master Adrian.

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