Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bright Star

Though definitely worth watching, this biographical sketch of the great Romantic poet John Keats’ final years proves rather disappointing overall. The film follows the relationship of Keats and his fiancé Fanny Brawne, which ends in tragic and unconsummated separation due to Keats’ poverty, failing health and untimely death from tuberculosis in Rome at the age of twenty-five. Despite some excellent casting choices, admirable performances and beautiful camera work, the overall result still somehow manages to engender a tedium which seems to overflow the otherwise reasonable limitations of the hour-and-fifty-nine-minute time-frame. Quite unlike Keats’ poetry, there is simply little here to arouse the imagination or draw the audience in so that they may themselves experience and become participants of both the elation and the pathos of the work that is set before them. For this failure, I think the screenplay itself is mostly at fault.

More specifically, I think this is a case where a too conservative approach—one that resolves, on the whole, to stick safely to the known biographical facts—ultimately fails to satisfactorily meet the demands of the chosen medium. A narrative film needs to accept and embrace the fact that it is not a documentary. By contrast, an approach which is willing to introduce some creative and well-considered, but not cheap or gimmicky, dramatical devices in order to better serve the narrative is much more successful. In addition to the other necessary qualities, this is what makes Amadeus, for instance, not a great biography (it reduces Mozart to something of a caricature and substitutes wild conjecture for historical fact), but a truly great film, while Bright Star remains simply a mediocre one. Both biopics begin with the considerable challenge of presenting an artist who was the consummate practitioner of his craft, and whose premature demise is well known and anticipated by the audience beforehand. But through creative daring, Amadeus attains the cinematic status of a Mozart, while Bright Star remains just another Salieri.

NOTE: Be sure to read my follow-up to this review here.


  1. Abe, thoughtful review. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I thought Keats' definition of poetry was one of the best movies quotes of all time. You might find Jeffrey Overstreet's comments interesting, as he listed as his #12 movie of last year:

  2. I would actually reiterate most of JO's favorable comments. And yes, that short soliloquy on poetry was especially superb and memorable. Definitely an oversight on my part not to have mentioned that. For me, the movie just didn't quite add up to the sum of its collective parts, many of which were quite fine considered in isolation, but I would definitely encourage folks to give it a chance and see for themselves.