In Contention


LONDON: A thing of beauty

Posted by Guy Lodge · 1:02 pm · October 19th, 2009

Abbie Cornish in Bright StarRegular readers will know that Kris and I frequently disagree as to the merits of certain films — and cheerfully so, since a range of opinion is kind of the point of having multiple contributors to a site like this.

But I don’t think our opinions have ever been so sharply opposed as they are over Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” — which has its UK premiere tonight as the Mayor of London’s Gala selection, and which thoroughly enthralled me at this morning’s press screening.

I realize that the film is relatively old news in the States as I write this, but I nonetheless feel compelled to add a rejoinder to Kris’s fair but frosty take from Telluride last month, as for my money, Campion has turned in a rhapsodically beautiful work, a possible four-star effort that sits easily with her finest.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m always sympathetic towards Campion’s films, which provoke and intrigue even when they don’t finally cohere (as was certainly the case with the fascinatingly flawed “In the Cut”). But I was nervous about “Bright Star” for several reasons, and not only because she hasn’t entirely floored me in 13 years: a period literary biopic seemed a disappointingly safe comeback route for her, while a PG-rated romance seemed curious for a director usually fired by sexual politics.

As it turns out, these limitations, if you will, actually inspire some of the most creatively sensuous filmmaking of Campion’s career. Denied the explicit in a portrayal of young love, she resorts to the tactile, detailing the emotional state of John Keats and Fanny Brawne via their physical relationship to their surroundings, whether it’s the bamboo and bluebells of Hampstead Heath or its tangible textures of paper and fabric. (Costume designer Janet Patterson should just be handed her rightful Oscar now — as should young DP Greig Fraser, who works painterly miracles with the dun London light.)

I can understand how some might find this approach a little cool to the touch, and Abbie Cornish’s reserved, contemporary-accented Brawne a tad difficult to warm to. But I found the film more moving for its lack of sweeping emotional gestures — it’s a quiet film, but one still besotted with words, positioning Keats’s exquisite verse as its prime emotive tool on the audience.

Cornish, meanwhile, hit every mark for me: she makes the rather brave decision to play up Brawne’s sullenness in the early stages, her face and body gradually loosening as first teenage love hits, only to pinch and contract once more in the sad, whisper-soft denouement. It’s a highly controlled performance, but one with striking flashes of youth and modernity. Much the same goes for this remarkable film.




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27 responses so far

  • 1 10-19-2009 at 1:04 pm

    James D. said...

    Great to hear. Bright Star has been criminally overlooked by so many.

  • 2 10-19-2009 at 1:23 pm

    André said...

    opens friday here in Rio… can’t wait!

    it was the only film in the Rio Film Fest I couldn’t get tickets for!!

    I also watched “Candy” on TV a couple weeks ago and Abbie Cornish may have replaced Carey Mulligan as my current “famous future wife”. =P

    she was amazing in that film (not to mention bloody gorgeous).

  • 3 10-19-2009 at 1:26 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    You’re fired.

  • 4 10-19-2009 at 1:27 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    By the way: no love for Schneider?

  • 5 10-19-2009 at 1:29 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    That was remiss of me: Schneider is excellent.

  • 6 10-19-2009 at 1:31 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    If I cream myself over “A Serious Man” next week, can I have my job back? ;)

  • 7 10-19-2009 at 1:41 pm

    Ali E. said...

    I’ll be seeing this tomorrow nşght, but I’m not really any excited… :)

  • 8 10-19-2009 at 1:45 pm

    Stuart said...

    Interesting to see you liked the film AND Schneider’s perf. A lot of the reactions I’ve read from people who liked/loved the film seemed to point to Schneider as a liability.

  • 9 10-19-2009 at 1:48 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    I really cannot wait for this. And because everyone has been glib to blase on it, wasn’t Whishaw good? I’ve ruled out hopes of a nod…but I really want him to at least get some recognition

  • 10 10-19-2009 at 2:02 pm

    Bryan said...

    Yes! Upon first viewing I knew I liked it but wasn’t sure how passionately. Then as I thought about I realized how much it had affected me. Then I saw it again. And Again. Best of 2009 for me; it will be hard to top it.

  • 11 10-19-2009 at 2:22 pm

    Loyal said...

    I can see enough voters putting Bright Star as their #3 and #4 on ballots to get it into the Best Picture 10.

  • 12 10-19-2009 at 2:25 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Encore: For what it’s worth, I thought Wishaw was fantastic. And, obviously, I loved Schneider. Cornish, not so much.

  • 13 10-19-2009 at 3:13 pm

    Luke Gorham said...

    Agreed, Guy. “Bright Star” was my number one film coming out of Toronto, and is perhaps my only 4-star film of the year (great year, though it is). Here’s hoping it gets more love than anticipated come January.

  • 14 10-19-2009 at 4:54 pm

    John said...

    ‘Bright Star’ has been one of my favorite films to come out this year.

    I am genuinely sorry that Kris didn’t get it; as I feel it was incredible moving, as well as beautiful (well, duh).

    I hope this finds an audience outside the States because I don’t think it’ll make it much over 4-5 million here.

  • 15 10-19-2009 at 5:42 pm

    Patryk said...

    Wishaw was the revelation here. Brilliant.

  • 16 10-19-2009 at 5:55 pm

    Speaking English said...

    One of my two official “4 star” films this year. And the other is A Serious Man.

    Bright Star is wonderful, and I completely concur about handing over the Oscars to Costumes and Cinematography right now. It’s an unbelievably beautiful film, both visually and thematically.

  • 17 10-19-2009 at 6:06 pm

    Glenn said...

    Really looking forward to this when it’s released on Boxing Day (gah! too far!) I just have a feeling I’m going to love it dearly.

  • 18 10-19-2009 at 6:10 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I liked Whishaw very much, though I think he arguably had the least testing role of the three principals. (Incidentally, I wouldn’t call any of them “revelations” per se — we knew they were really good before “Bright Star” came along.)

  • 19 10-19-2009 at 8:29 pm

    j said...

    For costumes, I think Nine has the advantage. Moulin Rouge & Chicago won…Those are the only BP musical nominees in 30 years I believe…

    This is one of my favorite of the decade. Maybe fans of the film like Cornish, non-fans like Schneider? I didn’t dislike Schneider exactly but I didn’t like him so much. Cornish’s is one of my favorite perfs of the decade. Whishaw…was delicate and pretty.

  • 20 10-19-2009 at 8:47 pm

    Michael said...

    dang it! I am so mad that I skipped out on the opportunity to see it when it was playing in my area. I felt like it had already lost all its buzz and seemed to have been forgotten and I didn’t want to waste my time, but now I wish I had given it a chance to see if it was a worthy discovery at the very least. oh well, it will go on the top of my queue when it comes out on dvd.

  • 21 10-19-2009 at 9:28 pm

    Ivich said...

    I am “dying” to see this film. It has been quite a while since I saw Whishaw in something. And he is so adorable and eloquent in his interviews (you guys should see the video on NYT’s Style magazine, T – The Heartthrobs, he is fantastic in it)

    Really wish that I get to see him as often as McAvoy in Hollywood; not necessarily the same kind of films. Guy would you please give us a report on his new play, “Cock”? It is going to open in November in London.

  • 22 10-19-2009 at 10:05 pm

    Dan said...

    I’m so glad you loved it! I was enthralled with this one!

  • 23 10-19-2009 at 11:10 pm

    LC said...

    I saw Bright Star today and enjoyed it very much but not sure, at this time, if it will be in my top 10. I had previously read about the pacing of the film, so paid a lot of attention to that. Although slow at times, I couldn’t find anything that could be edited out.
    What I did notice was an absence of music on several occasions, so I’m surprised to see it rated so highly as a contender for Original Score. The only music I do remember is the dancing and it was not particularly memorable. JMHO.
    In contrast, I can describe every frock and bonnet that Fanny wore, the blue jacket, black tie, high water pants and leather slippers that Tom wore and Mr. Brown’s hideous plaid suit.
    If Schneider was supposed to annoy the audience as much as he did Fanny, he was very good at it.

  • 24 10-20-2009 at 9:43 am

    George said...

    Agreed on all fronts. However, as an actor, I believe Cornish’s performance was something acting coaches would be doing backflips over. She is immersed in her role, from frame to frame, and effortlessly goes from highs to lows in ways only great, confident screen actresses can. She’s introverted, then extroverted, then furious, then contained. I haven’t seen a more nuanced, realistic performance this year. It echoes beautifully the confident craft of Campion’s film.

  • 25 10-20-2009 at 1:00 pm

    AdamL said...

    Up there with the director’s best?

    Like what?!?!

    The Piano

    and

    er, that’s it.

    What am I missing?

  • 26 10-20-2009 at 2:32 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I think “Sweetie,” “An Angel at My Table” and “The Portrait of a Lady” (an unpopular title, I acknowledge) are all great films. “Holy Smoke” and “In the Cut” have problems, but also flashes of greatness. To each his own, etc, etc, ad nauseum.

  • 27 10-31-2009 at 8:09 pm

    Me. said...

    I just got back from watching “Bright Star” and I was absorbed. The beauty of the film melted inside of me. I agree with Guy, the film should be handed it’s Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design awards already. I also really hope Abbie Cornish gets nominated (she is, by far, my best actress contender) and I want to give a really huge shout-out to Ben Whishaw for giving such a subtle, yet powerful performance as the young, romantic yet sick poet Keats (also my best actor contender so far). I adored this film and…

    2009 has been such a great year for cinema!
    From “Micmacs” to “Bright Star” to “A Serious Man”, passing by many other great films such as “The Hurt Locker”, “Baaria”, “(500) Days of Summer” and “Broken Embraces”. And to think that there’s soo much that I have yet to see! :D