In 1818 Hampstead, the fashionable Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) is introduced to poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) through the Dilke family. The Dilkes occupy one half of a double house, with Charles Brown (Paul Schneider) occupying the other half. Brown is Keats' friend, roommate, and associate in writing.
Fanny's flirtatious personality contrasts with Keats' notably more aloof nature. She begins to pursue him after her siblings Samuel and Toots obtain his book of poetry "Endymion". Her efforts to interact with the poet are fruitless until he witnesses her grief for the loss of his brother Tom. Keats begins to open up to her advances while spending Christmas with the Brawne family. He begins giving her poetry lessons, and it becomes apparent that their attraction is mutual. Fanny is nevertheless troubled by his reluctance to pursue her, for which her mother (Kerry Fox) surmises, "Mr. Keats knows he cannot like you, he has no living and no income."
It is only after Fanny receives a valentine from Brown that Keats passionately confronts them and asks if they are lovers. Brown sent the valentine in jest, but he warns Keats that Fanny is a mere flirt playing a game. Fanny is hurt by Brown's accusations and by Keats' lack of faith in her; she ends their lessons and leaves. The Dilkes move to Westminster in the spring, leaving the Brawne family their half of the house and six months rent. Fanny and Keats then resume their interaction and fall deeply in love. The relationship comes to an abrupt end when Brown departs with Keats for his summer rental, where Keats may earn some money. Fanny is heartbroken, though she is comforted by Keats' love letters. When the men return in the autumn, Fanny's mother voices her concern that Fanny's attachment to the poet will hinder her from being courted. Fanny and Keats secretly become engaged.
Keats contracts tuberculosis the following winter. He spends several weeks recovering until spring. His friends collect funds so that he may spend the next winter in Italy, where the climate is warmer. After Brown impregnates a maid and is unable to accompany Keats. Keats manages to find residence in London for the summer, but he is taken in by the Brawne family following an attack of his illness. When his book sells with moderate success, Fanny's mother gives him her blessing to marry Fanny once he returns from Italy. The night before he leaves, he and Fanny say their tearful goodbyes in privacy. Keats dies in Italy the following February of complications from his illness, just as his brother Tom did earlier in the film.
In the last moments of the film, Fanny cuts her hair in an act of mourning, dons black attire, and walks the snowy paths that Keats had walked many times. It is there that she recites the love sonnet that he had written for her called "Bright Star" as she grieves the death of her lover.Ben Whishaw as John Keats.
Keats was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death. During his lifetime his poems were not generally well received by critics and at age 25 he died believing he was a failure. However, his reputation grew and he held significant posthumous influence on many later poets.
Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne.
Like the real life Fanny Brawne, Fanny in the film is a fiery and fashionable eighteen-year-old who spends her time creating dresses, hats, and various other garments. She is also something of a flirt and enjoys attending balls, inducing jealousy in Keats. Though the real life Fanny Brawne went on to marry and have children, she never sold Keats's love letters.They were sold after her death by her children.
Paul Schneider as Charles Armitage Brown, Keats' best friend.
Kerry Fox as Fanny's mother, a widow.
Thomas Sangster as Samuel Brawne, Fanny's younger brother.
Edie Martin as Toots, Fanny's younger sister.
Antonia Campbell-Hughes as Abigail O'Donaghue Brown, housemaid and mother of Charles Brown's child.
Claudie Blakley as Mrs Dilke
Gerard Monaco as Charles Dilke
Olly Alexander as Tom Keats, Keats' brother
Samuel Roukin as John Hamilton Reynolds
Amanda Hale as Reynolds' Sister
Jonathan Aris as Leigh Hunt
Samuel Barnett as Joseph Severn
In addition to "Bright Star" several other poems are recited in the film, including "La Belle Dame sans Merci" and "Ode to a Nightingale". Both Campion and Whishaw completed extensive research in preparation for the film. Many of the lines in the script are taken directly from Keats' letters. Whishaw, as well, learned how to write with a quill and ink during filming. The letters that Fanny Brawne receives from Keats in the film were actually written by Whishaw in his own hand.
Janet Patterson, who has worked with Campion for over 20 years, served as both costume designer and production designer for the film.
The Hyde House and Estate in Hyde, Bedfordshire, substituted for the Keats House in Hampstead. Campion decided that the Keats House (also known as Wentworth Place) was too small and "a little bit fusty". Some filming also took place at Elstree Studios.
The film garnered positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 82% out of 153 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 7.2. "Jane Campion's direction is as refined as her screenplay, and she gets the most out of her cast – especially Abbie Cornish – in this understated period drama." The film also holds an 81/100 on Metacritic. Mary Colbert of SBS awarded the film five stars out of five. "If Campion intended to inspire an appreciation and rediscovery of Keats' poetry," she writes, "she has not only succeeded but herself created an artistic monument to his life, love, poetry and soul." Craig Mathieson stated in the same review that Bright Star is Jane Campion’s "best work since The Piano, her epochal 1993 masterpiece."
Poet and scholar Stanley Plumly, the author of Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (W.W. Norton, 2008), wrote of the film's writing and direction: "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 grossed $3,110,560 at the box office in Australia.
Lakeshore Records released the soundtrack for Bright Star digitally (iTunes and Amazon Digital) on 15 September 2009 and in stores on 13 October 2009. The film's soundtrack features original music by Mark Bradshaw with dialogue from the film voiced by Cornish and Whishaw.
- "Negative Capability" – 3:55
- "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" – 2:28
- "Return" – 0:58
- "Human Orchestra" – 1:48
- "Convulsion" – 0:52
- "Bright Star" – 1:49
- "Letters" – 3:49
- "Yearning" – 2:24
- "Ode to a Nightingale" – 5:24
A collection of Keats's love letters and selected poems was published in 2009 as a companion to the motion picture, entitled Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne. The 144-page book was published by Penguin and includes an introduction written by Campion.
Composer Mark Bradshaw can be seen in the film as the conductor while the men choir performs the track Human Orchestra composed by Bradshaw himself.
It's on set that actor Ben Whishaw who plays John Keats and Mark Bradshaw met. Since the shooting, they are a couple.