POETRY ON THE BIG SCREEN: The tragic love of John Keats and Franny Brawne

Medallion portrati of John Keats (1795-1821), English Romanic Poet
Medallion portrait of John Keats (1795-1821), English Romantic Poet

It’s that time of year again – kick back time between Christmas and the new year – a good time to revisit old movies and see new ones.  

Bright Star  is based on the tragic love of the quiet and reserved Romance poet, John Keats, and the vivacious Franny Brawne. Their alliance was destined to be cut short by his death at twenty-four of TB. Bright Star is not just another Regency drama. From the costumes, to the changing of the seasons that were a beautiful and meaningful backdrop to the story, to the world-class cast and script (Jane Campion wrote the script and directed the movie), it is about as nearly perfect as any movie can hope to be.

The title of the movie is taken from Keat’s poem Bright Star:

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
…..Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
…..Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
…..Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
…..Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
…..Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
…..Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

– John Keats

Francis (Fanny) Brawne Lindon (1800-1865
Francis (Fanny) Brawne London (1800-1865)

Abby Cornish plays Fanny Brawne in a performance both understated and charming.  Brawne came from a rather straightened background. At sixteen she is savvy and spunky and falls in love with that raw intensity most of us bring to first love. The story is told from Brawne’s perspective.

Ben Whishaw does a splendid job portraying the sensitive Keats. His recitation of Ode to a Nightingale, which is played as the closing credits run is itself worth the time and expense of admission.

Keats and Brawne were separated when a group of the poet’s friends pooled their resources to send him to Italy. Their hope was that the balmy climate would restore him and prolong his life. Keats, however, knew he would die in Italy. So did Brawne. That circumstance leads to a long and tender good-bye. Lying on a bed in Keats’ room, face to face, they recite La Belle Dame sans Merci to each other. Exquisite!

If you haven’t seen Bright Star, put it on your to-watch list.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Here is Ben Whitsaw’s exquisite rendering of La Belle Dame sans Merci. If you are reading this post in an email, you’ll have to link through to the site to view the video.

Photos ~ John Keats by di Gieovanni Dall’Orto from Keats’ headstone under attribution license via Wikipedia; Franny Brawne, an ambrotype taken circa 1850 and in the public domain.

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