By Lisa Gill and Carolyn Turgeon
If you want to pass a couple of hours swooning to the poetry of a gorgeous, doomed romance and suspecting you might have been born in the wrong century altogether, we recommend Jane Campion’s 2009 film Bright Star, which is about the last few years of the poet John Keats and his one true love, Fanny Brawne. Campion wrote the film after reading Andrew Motion’s biography Keats and becoming captivated by the poet/heartbreaker. After reading the love letters Keats sent to Fanny, Campion was in love. Who wouldn’t be?
The film is full of Keats’s own words from said letters, which are just as romantic today: “For myself I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a form: I want a brighter word than bright; a fairer word than fair.” Another example: “You must write immediately and do all you can to console me … make [your letter] rich as a draught of poppies to intoxicate me … write the softest words and kiss them that I may at least touch my lips where yours have been.” How can a modern-day email compare?
“It’s been such an amazing and incredible journey for me, getting close to John Keats and also Shelley and Byron,” Campion told NPR upon the film’s release. “I think what they responded to was their own spirits, and that was the Lord for them. And to me that seems like great instructions for life.”
In the film, there’s a quiet tension from the moment the two lovers interact on screen that sets the tone for the entire movie. Once a mutual attraction is formed, it’s nurtured with furtive glances through windows—Keats often inside, Fanny in the garden—or through knocking on the shared wall of the house with Fanny’s family on one side and Keats and his friend Mr. Brown on the other. At times playful, there is an undercurrent of growing despair once Fanny witnesses John’s brother Tom suffering from and succumbing to tuberculosis. And then, of course, Keats himself will succumb, in true Garbo-esque fashion.
The two are the ultimate star-crossed lovers—Keats, unable to marry due to his dire financial circumstances and Fanny, pleading with her mother to allow them to become engaged when it is clear that a very ill Keats must travel to the warmer climate of Italy to convalesce. But what is a perfect Romantic romance without some star-crossed despair?