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Bright Star

Common sense media reviewers.

movie review bright star

Romantic, moving film unlikely to interest tweens.

Bright Star Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

The film celebrates young love and devotion, as we

Keats is the epitome of a gentleman. His love for

Two men have an argument, with one goading the oth

A fair amount of flirting, hand-holding, and gentl

"Idiot" is firmly in the lexicon. "

Characters drink and smoke socially on a few occas

Parents need to know that this moving period romance is tame on the surface -- there's virtually no violence, sex, strong language or other iffy content -- but it has an undercurrent of sexual longing fueled by social barriers that complicate the characters' ability to be with the people they love. And though…

Positive Messages

The film celebrates young love and devotion, as well as passion -- for something or someone (in this case, Keats' for poetry, Fanny's for fashion, and both characters for each other). Keats' friends are very supportive of him, as is Fanny's family of her. There's some class tension -- the film doesn't shy away from the double standard that prevents Fanny from marrying Keats but allows an upper-class man to dally with a maid with no consequences.

Positive Role Models

Keats is the epitome of a gentleman. His love for Fanny is genuine, as is hers for him. Fanny is also quite devoted to her family, and their acceptance of Fanny's love for Keats is very empathetic. On the downside, Keats' friend Brown is derisive of Fanny, and dismisses her as a fashionista rather than an intellectual -- as if the two were mutually exclusive -- and is cavalier in the way he treats people of other classes.

Violence & Scariness

Two men have an argument, with one goading the other to fight out of anger. Some shoving. A main character eventually dies, though from illness, rather than violence.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

A fair amount of flirting, hand-holding, and gentle kissing -- plus one sonnet-reading scene that has a very passionate, sensuous feel. One character pursues a maid and gets her pregnant (though they aren't seen together in bed).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

"Idiot" is firmly in the lexicon. "Damn" is also used.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink and smoke socially on a few occasions. The smoking is accurate for the movie's time period.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this moving period romance is tame on the surface -- there's virtually no violence, sex, strong language or other iffy content -- but it has an undercurrent of sexual longing fueled by social barriers that complicate the characters' ability to be with the people they love. And though the story is told with a great deal of grace, it does have a bit of grit (but virtually no violence, sex, strong language, or other iffy content). First, there's the consumption that finally claims poet John Keats -- its progression is delicately but truthfully depicted. Also, Keats' best friend is dismissive of those with no interest in poetry (i.e., Fanny, who's passionate about sewing instead), and there's some discussion about Fanny's virginity, but the conversations are oblique (and nothing more than kissing and hand-holding is shown on screen). To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

Where to Watch

Videos and photos.

Bright Star Trailer

Community Reviews

  • Parents say (1)
  • Kids say (2)

Based on 1 parent review

Probably better for older teens

What's the story.

Opposites attract in BRIGHT STAR, director Jane Campion 's affecting portrait of the enduring love that develops between 19th-century Romantic poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw), and his Hampstead neighbor, Fanny Brawne ( Abbie Cornish ). Keats, then 23, was a struggling writer, while 18-year-old Fanny was a fashionable flirt with a gift for sewing and no interest in the art of words. But you can't choose who you fall in love with -- you're summoned. And summoned they are, despite Keats' inability to support a family, let alone himself. And when he's stricken with tuberculosis, the young lovers' odds don't improve.

Is It Any Good?

Period dramas often stumble because they can feel like play acting -- viewers are keenly aware the events occurred long ago, if at all, and are rarely invested; Bright Star isn't hobbled like this. It enfolds you in remarkable beauty, while also being grounded in a palpable sense of time and place. Campion brings the heath to life, and it's glorious to witness to Keats' and Brawne's relationship. There's a grace to the director's storytelling, and in her capable hands, both love and poetry become accessible.

But this is no fairy tale, either. Campion deftly explores class differences and artistic pressures as well as budding romance. Whishaw, as Keats, broods and contemplates (as poets do) without coming off as clichéd -- when he struggles to write, it's as if he's truly wrestling with words, and when his poems are finally read, they stun. Cornish is so authentic that you'll forget she's no 19th-century maiden; dialogue isn't just dialogue when she says it, and love no mere plot point when she feels it. Authenticity, in fact, permeates the whole movie. When Keats and Fanny place their hands on the wall separating their rooms, each on opposite sides, we feel privy to a genuine moment between two people helplessly enamored of each other.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about John and Fanny's relationship. Why do so many characters seem to think that they don't belong together? What were the stakes for young lovers at that time, especially for women? How did those stakes vary by social class?

Why do you think Keats doesn't press Fanny for a physical relationship? Was society's view of sex different in their time?

Does it seem like poetry was more appreciated during Keats' than it is now? If yes, why? Who are the famous poets' modern-day counterparts?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : September 18, 2009
  • On DVD or streaming : January 26, 2010
  • Cast : Abbie Cornish , Ben Whishaw , Paul Schneider
  • Director : Jane Campion
  • Inclusion Information : Gay actors
  • Studio : Miramax
  • Genre : Drama
  • Topics : History
  • Run time : 119 minutes
  • MPAA rating : PG
  • MPAA explanation : thematic elements, some sensuality, brief language and incidental smoking
  • Last updated : December 4, 2022

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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Bright star — film review.

A treat for romantics and those who take their poetry seriously, New Zealand director Jane Campion's gorgeously filmed Festival de Cannes Competition entry "Bright Star" may not be a joy forever but it will do until the next joy comes along.

By Ray Bennett

Ray Bennett

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More Cannes reviews

CANNES — A treat for romantics and those who take their poetry seriously, New Zealand director Jane Campion’s gorgeously filmed Festival de Cannes Competition entry “Bright Star” may not be a joy forever but it will do until the next joy comes along.

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Cynics need not apply and it’s doubtful that “Bright Star” will be the shining light at many suburban cineplexes, but festivals will eat it up, art house audiences will swoon and it will have a lucrative life on DVD and Blu-ray, not to mention the BBC and PBS.

The England depicted in the film is the one people are thinking of when they say they wish they were born during the time of the romantic poets. Only one scene in the picture shows the ugly underbelly of poverty in 1880s London, and for the rest it’s all picturesque houses and gorgeous gardens in Hampstead Village.

There, Fanny lives with her widowed mother, Mrs. Brawne (Kerry Fox), and her well-behaved younger siblings Samuel (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and Margaret, known as Toots, (Edie Martin).

Their place in society takes them to social events and balls where Fanny’s dance-card is always filled, although the glamorous Keats prefers not to dance. She has made a name, and money, for herself as a skilled maker of fashionable garments, although the best friend of the coveted Keats, a burly writer named Brown (Paul Schneider), dismisses her as “the very well-stitched Miss Brawne.”

Fastidious and proud, Fanny feuds with Brown, who is over-protective of his genius friend, but she sends Toots to buy a copy of the poet’s latest collection, as the child says, “to see if he’s an idiot or not.”

The English Whishaw, who was a sensation as Hamlet in Trevor Nunn’s Old Vic stage production in 2004, played the similarly doomed Sebastian Flyte in “Brideshead Revisited” last year but makes his Keats singularly memorable. Cornish has the acting skill to match her striking beauty and she makes the small loving gestures that the British might call soppy both real and touching. Among the pleasures of the film is listening to them both declaim Keats’ poetry.

The entire cast is good, with Schneider, who was among the exceptional ensemble in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” and Fox especially strong. Cinematographer Greig Fraser beautifully captures Janet Patterson’s sumptuous production and costume designs, as well as the lovely gardens and countryside. Mark Bradshaw’s elegant score is pleasingly delicate.

Festival de Cannes — Competition

Sales: Pathe Distribution Production companies: Pathe Productions, BBC Films, Screen Australia, New South Wales Film & TV Office, UKFC, Hopscotch International

Cast: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox Screenwriter-director: Jane Campion Executive producers: Francois Ivernal, Cameron McCracken, Christine Langan, David M. Thompson Producers: Jan Chapman, Caroline Hewitt Director of photography: Greig Fraser Production, costume designer: Janet Patterson Music: Mark Bradshaw Editor: Alexandre de Franceschi

No rating, 120 minutes

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Bright Star Reviews

movie review bright star

Manages to bottle the fleeting feeling of spring bliss.

Full Review | May 20, 2022

movie review bright star

Everything is simple and understated, allowing the big moments their space. ... [Whishaw's] line readings are disastrous. ... Cornish is a revelation[.]

Full Review | Nov 9, 2021

movie review bright star

Jane Campion's "Bright Star" manages to accomplish quite a bit, not the least of which is a love story where the lovers not only rarely get any time alone together, but fall in love in front of the whole family.

Full Review | Oct 8, 2020

movie review bright star

Bright Star is filled with such an enormity of love and feeling, it nearly takes your breath away. The film's rapturous images and Campion's vision make you long for a world as vivid and true as this one.

Full Review | Jan 24, 2020

movie review bright star

The film succeeds in making the lustre of Keats' words come borne out of the inspiration he finds in his love for Fanny Brawn and the transcendent beauty of the natural world.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Oct 31, 2019

The love story between John and Fanny fuels the narrative and draws in the viewer - we root for their happiness even though we know only heartbreak lies ahead.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Oct 29, 2019

movie review bright star

There are moments of great and sublime beauty at work here.

Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/4 | Aug 5, 2019

Bright Star is a beautiful film, filled with the glories of nature and man that inspired Keats.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Dec 5, 2018

The problem that the New Zealand director cannot overcome is that there is the lack of electricity between Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish in the lead roles.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Nov 4, 2018

movie review bright star

Yes, it is a thing of beauty and, yes, things of beauty are joys for ever but we can also probably say this about them: they don't always add up to the most affecting movies.

Full Review | Aug 30, 2018

The film is mistaken to the point of perversity about the nature of imagination when it comes to a poet and especially to this poet.

Full Review | Aug 29, 2018

movie review bright star

In a world where only Hollywood cinematic romance is acceptable, it is a risk that pays off.

Full Review | May 18, 2018

movie review bright star

Campion manages to understand and present the essence of a passionate relationship, without becoming corny or old fashioned. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Mar 16, 2018

movie review bright star

Bright Star is a work of muted eroticism, and in its bare-bones approach, it's a story reminding us that love often grows without explosive fanfare.

Full Review | Feb 3, 2018

movie review bright star

Every frame exudes a sweet, doomed innocence that makes you want to cry, then swoon, then cry again.

Full Review | Jan 24, 2018

movie review bright star

Wonderful attention is paid to detail, including clothing, furniture and highly-stylized behavior. What is missing is emotion.

Full Review | Jan 17, 2018

It all feels quite lovely and seems an achievement unto itself, to be allowed to soak in all this calm and tenderness.

Full Review | Dec 14, 2017

movie review bright star

Director Jane Campion's most enthralling film since The Piano.

Full Review | Oct 11, 2017

If the theme of Bright Star is the realization of oneself in natural emotion, the method is gorgeously unnatural.

Full Review | Jun 13, 2016

[Jane Campion] shows us here the beautiful sanctuaries that word and image create together, and the reasons why life requires us ... to abandon them.

Full Review | Sep 24, 2014


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Movie Review | 'Bright Star'

Keats and His Beloved in an Ode to Hot English Chastity

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movie review bright star

By A.O. Scott

  • Sept. 15, 2009

John Keats was a Romantic poet. “Bright Star,” which tells the tale of Keats and Fanny Brawne, the love of his short life, is a romantic movie. The vernacular of popular culture and the somewhat specialized language of literary history assign different meanings to that word, but the achievement of Jane Campion’s learned and ravishing new film is to fuse them, to trace the comminglings and collisions of poetic creation and amatory passion.

This is a risky project, not least because a bog of cliché and fallacy lies between the filmmaker and her goal. In the first decades of the 19th century, some poets may have been like movie stars, but the lives of the poets have been, in general, badly served on film, either neglected altogether or puffed up with sentiment and solemnity. The Regency period, moreover, serves too many lazy, prestige-minded directors as a convenient vintage clothing store. And there are times in “Bright Star” when Keats, played by the pale and skinny British actor Ben Whishaw (“Perfume,” “I’m Not There”), trembles on the edge of caricature. He broods; he coughs (signaling the tuberculosis that will soon kill him); he looks dreamily at flowers and trees and rocks.

But these moments, rather than feeling studied or obvious, arrive with startling keenness and disarming beauty, much in the way that Keats’s own lyrics do. His verses can at first seem ornate and sentimental, but on repeated readings, they have a way of gaining in force and freshness. The music is so intricate and artificial, even as the emotions it carries seem natural and spontaneous. And while no film can hope to take you inside the process by which these poems were made, Ms. Campion allows you to hear them spoken aloud as if for the first time. You will want to stay until the very last bit of the end credits, not necessarily to read the name of each gaffer and grip, but rather to savor every syllable of Mr. Whishaw’s recitation of “Ode to a Nightingale.”

Keats’s genius — underestimated by many of the critics of his time, championed by a loyal coterie of literary friends — is the fixed point around which “Bright Star” orbits. Its animating force, however, is the infatuation that envelops Keats and Brawne in their early meetings and grows, over the subsequent months, into a sustaining and tormenting love. Mr. Keats, as his lover decorously calls him, is diffident and uneasy at times, but also witty, sly and steadfast. The movie really belongs to Brawne, played with mesmerizing vitality and heart-stopping grace by Abbie Cornish.

Ms. Cornish, an Australian actress whose previous films include “Stop-Loss,” “Candy” and “Somersault,” has, at 27, achieved a mixture of unguardedness and self-control matched by few actresses of any age or nationality. She’s as good as Kate Winslet, which is about as good as it’s possible to be.

Fanny, the eldest daughter of a distracted widow (Kerry Fox), has some of the spirited cleverness of a Jane Austen heroine. A gifted seamstress, she prides herself on her forward-looking fashion sense and her independence. She is also vain, insecure and capable of throwing herself headlong into the apparent folly of adoring a dying and penniless poet, something no sensible Austen character would ever do.

If it were just the poet and his beloved, “Bright Star” might collapse in swooning and sighing, or into the static rhythms of a love poem. And while there are passages of extraordinary lyricism — butterflies, fields of flowers, fluttering hands and beseeching glances — these are balanced by a rough, energetic worldliness. Lovers, like poets, may create their own realms of feeling and significance, but they do so in contention with the same reality that the rest of us inhabit.

The film’s designated reality principle is Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), Keats’s friend, patron and collaborator and his main rival for Fanny’s attention. For Brown, Fanny is an irritant and a distraction, though the sarcastic intensity of their banter carries an interesting sexual charge of its own. In an Austen novel this friction would be resolved in matrimony, but “Bright Star,” following the crooked, shadowed path of biographical fact, has a different story to tell.

Brown and Keats are neighbors to the Brawne brood in Hampstead in 1818, when the story begins. In April of the following year the poets are occupying one-half of a house, with Fanny and her mother and siblings on the other side of the wall. After nine months Keats, in declining health, is dispatched to Italy by a committee of concerned friends, but until then he and Fanny consummate their love in every possible way except physically.

Ms. Campion is one of modern cinema’s great explorers of female sexuality, illuminating Sigmund Freud’s “dark continent” with skepticism, sympathy and occasional indignation. “Bright Star” could easily have become a dark, simple fable of repression, since modern audiences like nothing better than to be assured that our social order is freer and more enlightened than any that came before. But Fanny and Keats are modern too, and though the mores of their time constrain them, they nonetheless regard themselves as free.

The film is hardly blind to the sexual hypocrisy that surrounds them. Fanny can’t marry Keats because of his poverty, but Brown blithely crosses class lines to have some fun with (and impregnate) a naïve and illiterate young household servant (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). That Fanny and Keats must sublimate their longings in letters, poems and conversations seems cruel, but they make the best of it. As does Ms. Campion: a sequence in which, fully clothed, the couple trades stanzas of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” in a half-darkened bedroom must surely count as one of the hottest sex scenes in recent cinema.

The heat of that moment and others like it deliver “Bright Star” from the tidy prison of period costume drama. Ms. Campion, with her restless camera movements and off-center close-ups, films history in the present tense, and her wild vitality makes this movie romantic in every possible sense of the word.

“Bright Star” is rated PG (parental guidance suggested). It is perfectly chaste and insanely sexy.

Bright Star

Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan. Written and directed by Jane Campion; director of photography, Greig Fraser; edited by Alexandre de Franceschi; music by Mark Bradshaw; production designer, Janet Patterson; produced by Jan Chapman and Caroline Hewitt; released by Apparition. Running time: 1 hour 59 minutes.

WITH: Abbie Cornish (Fanny Brawne), Ben Whishaw (John Keats), Paul Schneider (Mr. Brown), Antonia Campbell- Hughes (Abigail O’Donaghue) and Kerry Fox (Mrs. Brawne).

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Bright Star (2009)

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Movie Review: Bright Star

MC film critic Caryn James riffs on an unlikely strategy for bringing sexy back to the movies: Keep those clothes on.


In the glowing Bright Star, poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his love, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), lie together on a bed, fully clothed—racy behavior in 1820 for an un-married pair—and we feel the fierce heat of their desire with nary a thrusting pelvis in sight. This sexy-yet-sexless tale of a doomed affair is a potent reminder of romance, all but vanquished by today's harshly lit, full-frontal orgies.

Director Jane Campion's most enthralling film since The Piano, Bright Star differs from standard period pieces that waltz around the idea of pure animal lust: Here, the sensitive Keats and the feisty Brawne really, really want to sleep together. But marriage is out of the question—Keats is penniless, not to mention dying of tuberculosis—and the lovelorn pair are too respectable, too proper, to go for it anyway.

Often, directors of 19th-century dramas resort to Jane Austen's adolescent totems of desire: Colin Firth in a wet shirt in the BBC classic Pride and Prejudice, a windswept Keira Knightley finally kissing her Darcy in the 2005 movie version. But Keats and Brawne are so on fire for each other—and so adult--they actually discuss having sex before he heads to Italy to convalesce. Keats ultimately declines, saying, "I have a conscience."

Instead, Keats and Brawne channel their passion into eloquent words and gestures—hey, he isn't called a Romantic for nothing. His poem "Bright Star," inspired by Brawne, imagines his head "pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast." Living next door to each other in attached row houses, they place their hands on opposite sides of a shared wall at night. (Aww!) The scene pulsates with a longing far more powerful than any shag ever could.

Of course, we gals know that the freedom to find out if you'll enjoy sex with your future husband is one of the greatest advances of the 20th century. But the rom-com formula for such hookups (three dates plus one lobster dinner divided by two bottles of wine) rarely adds up to flirtatious excitement. Bright Star bravely suggests that a few poetic words make for a better aphrodisiac: When Keats writes, "You have absorbed me," restraint never sounded so hot.


Do the dark travails of fevered writers make for good cinema? Consider: Gwyneth Paltrow as suicidal Sylvia Plath, falling for caddish fellow poet Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig) in the ominous  SYLVIA ; baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio playing the druggy poet Jim Carroll in  THE BASKETBALL DIARIES ; Oscar winner Nicole Kidman taking that long, lonely walk into the lake as Virginia Woolf in  THE HOURS . The bright side? In  WILDE , a gorgeous, pre-stardom Jude Law plays Bosie, Oscar Wilde's ruinous lover.

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F ilms about poets have a poor reputation, most of them – from Dennis Price as The Bad Lord Byron 60 years ago to Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath six years back – being dull and risible, though a couple of performances have been rather good, most notably Rip Torn's exuberant Walt Whitman in the otherwise unremarkable Beautiful Dreamers . Jane Campion 's Bright Star is in a different class and this is partly because it looks at John Keats from the viewpoint of Fanny Brawne, in the same way that Percy Adlon's remarkable Céleste looked at Proust through the eyes of his dedicated housekeeper.

The three-year relationship between Brawne (Abbie Cornish) and Keats (Ben Whishaw) – she was 18 when they met in 1818, he was 23 – is one of the great love affairs of English literature, but it didn't become public knowledge until a decade after her death in 1865 when some of his letters to her were published.

Using Andrew Motion's magisterial biography as her biographical source and Keats's poetry as her creative model, Campion has made what she calls "a ballad, a sort of story poem" about the relationship that begins with the beautiful, confident Fanny on her way with her young brother and sister and their mother to meet Keats and his devoted, well-off companion, poet Charles Brown, and ends with Fanny's terrible grief after receiving the news of his death in Rome in February 1821.

Campion resists the temptation to follow Keats to Italy. Instead, Brown reads a letter from painter Joseph Severn who'd accompanied Keats on his journey, and we see a brief, silent sequence of a coffin being carried down the Spanish Steps and a hearse driving off towards the Protestant Cemetery.

There's some rather clumsy exposition in the opening scenes when we're told about Keats's humble background, his parents' deaths, his sickly young brother Tom and another brother's emigration to the States. But this is uncharacteristic of a movie that subtly follows an Austenesque process as it moves from playful banter and underlying tension into the true love and mutual reliance that springs up when John and Fanny become next-door neighbours in Hampstead. The only thing standing between their two beds at that point is the thin wall dividing the semi-detached houses.

Campion is a feminist film-maker, the heroines of her films usually oppressed by insensitive families or husbands, as in her two previous excursions into the 19th century, The Piano , her most fully achieved work until Bright Star , and The Portrait of a Lady , a fine but flawed film. So one becomes aware of an absence of what might be called assertiveness or aggression of a kind we might have expected from her. There are no conspicuous point-scoring sexual politics at work in Bright Star beyond the obvious recognition that women at that time were restricted in their social lives.

This is largely confined to the admirably handled conflict between Brawne and Brown. Brown, a conventional misogynist, regards women as objects for exploitation, display or distant adoration and believes it his duty to protect the vulnerable Keats from the distraction Fanny constitutes. He represents a different kind of love from the one Keats offers and ends up making a servant girl pregnant and marrying her without any intention of remaining faithful. He also lets down Keats, first by no longer being able to provide financial support, then in finding excuses for not going with him to Italy.

From the start, Brown mocks Fanny as a flirtatious clothes horse, attracting attention to the fancy outfits she designs and makes. But she comes across attractively as a proto-Coco Chanel, the couturier as artist, taking pride and pleasure in her creations. This prevents the film going in the direction of the conflicts between poets and their lovers tendentiously dramatised in Tom and Viv and Sylvia .

Fanny comes into Keats's orbit by wanting to comfort his ailing brother Tom and through her desire to understand his poetry. She is not seeking to become his muse (though she does) and isn't jealous of him (and indeed there's little in the way of professional success or social attainment to be jealous of).

It is the man and his work that attracts her, and as played by Ben Whishaw he's an engaging figure: sociable but socially awkward, proud but not arrogant, a dreamer but not dreamy, and curiously vigorous despite the tuberculosis that so often drags him down and will soon kill him. What we inevitably miss is the larger social vision that Motion's biography reveals. Not surprisingly Mrs Brawne (Kerry Fox) thinks Keats a hopeless match for her daughter, but she is a kindly, thoughtful person and is prepared, for a mixture of reasons, for her daughter to become engaged, if only secretly.

At the heart of the film is a doomed love affair that moves gently, inexorably towards death through the seasons that the poet observes, and one thinks of The Eve of St Agnes , the great narrative poem Keats wrote in this period, which comes across like a scenario for a wonderful silent movie. Both Cornish and Whishaw inhabit their roles immaculately and there are magnificent moments when the emotions on the screen are complemented in the verse spoken, most especially perhaps when the pair recite alternate couplets from "La Belle Dame sans Merci".

The film, most of it shot on location in Bedfordshire, is beautifully lit by Greig Fraser and it ends with a fine reading by Ben Whishaw of "Ode to a Nightingale" that begins after Fanny has walked across a wintry Hampstead Heath in a mourning dress of her own creation and accompanies the credits to the very end. So don't rush for the exit when the credits start rolling. Sit and savour this marvellous film until the lights come up.

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Bright Star

By Peter Travers

Peter Travers

What do you say about a 25-year-old British poet who died? If you’re Jane Campion and the poet is John Keats, you can go with thelove letters Keats (Ben Whishaw) wrote to Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) before consumption ended his life in Italy in 1821. But Campion, in films as diverse as The Piano and In the Cut , has always been intrigued by the space that time, class and culture puts between lovers and the feelings they can’t articulate. And so Bright Star is the New Zealand writer-director’s raw, sensual attempt to render Keats as experienced by a young girl who couldn’t understand the genius of his verse.

It workslike a charm. The rigidity of life in Hampstead, where Fanny and her family live next door to the penniless Keats and his mentor, Mr. Brown (Paul Schneider), only amps the intensity of the emotions thwarted by their formal dress and society’s rules. Sex? There isn’t any between Keats and Fanny. Only Brown’s go at a housemaid brings a carnal intrusion. For Campion, it’s nature that represents the swoons and storms of this unrequited romance. The film, shot by the gifted Greig Fraser, is a thing of beauty to match the snippets of Keats we hear on the soundtrack. But the film would remain a concept without the right actors to give it flesh and blood. Whishaw lets us into Keats’ secret, anguished heart. And Cornish is glorious, making Fanny a force of womanhood able to take on Brown (Schneider is a sharply witty irritant) when he tries to break the connection between her and her beloved. Cornish catches the fertile mind that Fanny poignantly tries to nurture, knowing she’ll grow closer to Keats by deciphering the words that possess him. A literate, lyrical love story in the age of Hollywood crass. I must be dreaming.

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Period Drama Review: Bright Star (2009)

Last Updated on November 27, 2021

It is no small feat to translate the ineffable emotions of young love to the screen—much less the feelings evoked by Romantic poetry—but “Bright Star,” written and directed by Jane Campion, manages to do both in a beautifully understated effort.

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Set in England during the Regency era, the 2009 film traces the passionate three-year relationship between Fanny Brawne and the Romantic poet John Keats (1795 – 1821). Brawne served as Keats’ muse during his most creative period, but their courtship was cut tragically short when Keats died of tuberculosis at 25.

Campion focuses on the deeply-felt emotions behind their relationship and the poetry Keats wrote in response.

Fashionable Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) first meets John Keats (Ben Whishaw) in 1818, when she visits family friends in Hampstead. The Dilkes share a two-family home with Keats and his poet friend Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), a boorish Scot who thrives on teasing Fanny for her pride in her “stitching.” She sews all her own clothes, including some colorful “mushroom collars” that set her apart from her understated companions, and she’s not ashamed of her talent.

Keats, by contrast, is much more reserved, and at first she doesn’t know what to make of him; she sends her younger siblings (Edie Martin and Thomas Brodie-Sangster) to buy a copy of his poetry volume “Endymion” “to see if he’s an idiot or not.” Fanny isn’t sure she understands the work, but she’s intrigued enough to seek out poetry lessons with the standoffish Keats.

Gradually their friendship deepens into a romantic attachment, though Fanny is frustrated by Keats’ stubborn refusal to court her openly. As her mother (Kerry Fox) reminds her, he has no income—in fact, by this point in his life Keats was already in debt to many of his friends—and therefore no means by which to support a wife and family. Yet the two young lovers can’t stay away from each other, and Campion finds sensual beauty in their hands touching after a meal, in stolen kisses in the woods.

movie review bright star

Their romance truly takes off once the Brawnes move into the home the Dilkes once occupied, and Fanny and Keats literally live next door to each other, their bedrooms divided by a single wall. Mrs. Brawne clucks over the gossip in town, but she allows their romance to continue, even as Keats contracts tuberculosis and their hopes of a happily-ever-after grow ever dimmer.

A different director might have embellished here, allowing the doomed lovers a passionate consummation or desperate farewells when Keats is finally forced to leave for the warmer Italian climate. But Campion keeps her characters stubbornly chaste (again, remaining true to life), instead choosing to emphasize the sensuality of Keats’ poetry and the visual beauty of Hampstead. Whishaw and Cornish quote excerpts from Keats’ most memorable poems both in voiceover and to each other, and their earnest, understated performances keep the focus on their relationship. Meanwhile, they wander through grassy meadows and pick bright wildflowers in what seems to be a never-ending spring.

movie review bright star

Abbie Cornish is a wonder here, full of fiery passion and forthright opinion as the impetuous Fanny. As she falls more deeply in love with Keats, the range of her emotions widens as well. There’s a subtle humor in her histrionics when she realizes he hasn’t written for weeks; desperately sad, she sends her younger sister down to the kitchen to fetch a knife so she can kill herself. Yet Cornish doesn’t play up the comedy here, and her performance simply immerses the viewer more deeply in the throes of Fanny’s relationship.

Similarly, Campion turns to lush visuals to echo the young lovers’ attachment. In one stunning scene of the romantic British period drama, overcome by the words in Keats’ latest letter, Fanny sinks to the ground in a bed of purple wildflowers. In another, she and her sister allow butterflies to flutter freely in their bedroom, and the camera lingers on the insects’ vivid colors as they rest on furniture or alight on the girls’ fingers.

In this dream-like atmosphere, we might question the reality of Fanny’s experience. Indeed, “[d]o I wake or sleep?” Keats asked in his “Ode to a Nightingale,” quoted here over the end credits. Both, it seems, in Campion’s eyes. Her deft direction evokes the otherworldliness of young love and of Romantic poetry, while never shying away from the pains of separation and loss.

Bright Star (2009) is AVAILABLE to STREAM Rated PG Watch the TRAILER

Abby Murphy writes young adult books about girls discovering their strengths. A member of SCBWI and The Historical Novel Society, she is represented by Laura Crockett of Triada US Literary Agency. You can visit her blog here , where she writes about reading, writing, history, and her incurable Anglophilia.

If you enjoyed this post, wander over to The Period Films List . You’ll also like 5 Reasons to Watch Desperate Romantics .

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Bright Star Review

Bright Star

06 Nov 2009

119 minutes

Bright Star

Writer-director Jane Campion’s most famous film remains 1993’s Oscar-winning The Piano, the storyof a woman unable to speak, trapped in a silent world until an unlikely paramour unlocks her emotionally and erotically. In Bright Star, Campion takes as her subject John Keats (Ben Whishaw), one of the most famous wordsmiths of all time. Ostensibly her subjects couldn’t be more different. Yet for all his way with words, once again it takes an unlikely paramour — flirty, feisty seamstress Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) — to lay bare the passion behind the poet.

Campion has taken as her focus the last two years of 23 year-old Keats’ life, as he teetered on the edge of literary fame. Lodging in London with the rambunctious Charles Brown (an excellent Paul Schneider), his buxom, rosy-cheeked neighbour, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), soon catches his (and Brown’s) eye, not least as she isn’t afraid to speak her mind over his poems. Or, indeed, anything. It’s a fun, familiar set-up, all too soon blighted by Keats’ obvious illness, our Romantic hero conspicuously succumbing to something nasty even as, thanks to Brawne, his life is filling with life and love. Campion seems to suggest that if sheer force of personality were enough, TB would be no match for Fanny.

This might be the turn of the 19th century, but Campion’s is no creaky costume drama — indeed, Fanny’s bosoms are barely restrained by her succession of self-designed frocks. There’s a wonderful lightness to the central pair’s relationship, Cornish all fun vivacity, Whishaw all pale skin, sharp angles and haunted eyes — he could give tips to Keats himself on how to look Keatsian — but nevertheless with an impishness around Fanny that gives welcome foil to his usual intensity.

Yet as another great poet once wrote, the course of true love never did run smooth. Just as this simple passion finds its voice, a different note begins to sound. Campion’s pacing is immaculate, and her mixing of light and shade is so subtly effective that, as the tale heads towards inevitable tragedy, it’s impossible not to be left both quietly devastated and thoroughly uplifted.

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Bright Star

Drama, Romance

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Bright Star is the nearest the New Zealand–born auteur Campion has come to what Keats called “negative capability,” which I’ll define here as entering fully into an imaginative world and leaving one’s arty mannerisms and punishingly masochistic feminist agenda behind. Well, there is a modest feminist agenda. Working with poet and Keats biographer Sir Andrew Motion, Campion aims to salvage Brawne’s good name. In the nineteenth century, she gained a reputation as an Alma Mahler–like slut (only less beautiful and talented) who overtaxed her brilliant lover and had the tastelessness to publish his demonstrative love letters when his star was posthumously ascendant. The movie leaves no doubt that the world is better for those sublime letters, and that the bullyboy Brown—who knocks up the Irish maid (Antonia Campbell-Hughes)—is male predatory instinct incarnate. What keeps all this from seeming overmelodramatic is Schneider’s huge performance, which is too hilarious. All costume dramas need actors this rude.

Even if you set aside Schneider, Bright Star is remarkably evocative. It is our postmodern, ironic way to picture Romantic poets as lyrical fops lolling under gray English skies, their musings interrupted by bronchial spasms aimed at tastefully blood-spotted handkerchiefs. But Campion brings out the tension between Keats’s supple language, with its yearning for the eternal (“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art … ”), and his fevered awareness of his own mortality. One scene—in which a miserable Fanny and her little sister, “Toots” (Edie Martin), fill her room with butterflies—has a visionary mixture of beauty and evanescence. Production and costume designer Janet Patterson revels in the eye-popping showiness of 1820s fashions—Brawne’s self-sewn flouncy ruffles, the elongated top hats—without tipping into camp. Their movie has too much rough texture for camp.

Cornish and Whishaw are wonderfully matched. She’s plusher than in the past, and her character struggles for poise in a way that’s most un–Keira Knightley. She’s a touching mess when she lies on her bed, all coquettishness burned away, and moans, “Is this love? I’ll never tease about it again.” Whishaw gropes his way through verses I know so well as if he’s still working on them. There isn’t a less-than-perfect performance, but in the end, my heart belongs to Toots. Young Edie Martin, with her chaotic swarm of red ringlets and deadpan dutifulness (she has few lines, but they’re goodies), is the movie’s sign of eternal spring—the butterfly atop the just-opened blossom. — David Edelstein

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Bright Star

  • Drama , Romance

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In Theaters

  • September 16, 2009
  • Ben Whishaw as John Keats; Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne; Paul Schneider as Charles Armitage Brown; Kerry Fox as Mrs. Brawne; Edie Martin as Margaret 'Toots' Brawne; Thomas Sangster as Samuel Brawne

Home Release Date

  • January 26, 2010
  • Jane Campion


Movie review.

They were an unlikely couple. Her vexing wit, inexperience with literature and “obsession with flounce and cross-stitch” mingling with his quietness, depth of soul and melancholy verse. Her breeding and social standing vs. his lack of standing, occupation and fortune. Both John Keats and Fanny Brawne desperately want to change their circumstances. But there are impossibilities in early 19th century England. It is equally impossible, though, to undo the romantic attachment between the then-failed, penniless poet and his more prosperous young neighbor.

The couple meets during the winter of 1818, when he is in his early 20s and she still a teenager. Never one to read poetry before, Fanny has her young brother Samuel and sister Toots buy a book of Keats’ poems after their acquaintance. She then indulges in his words, and through them develops a hunger to learn more about the man behind the writing. Keats, in turn, gradually studies her and ultimately becomes her literature tutor—albeit a teacher with romantic ulterior motives. Their love blossoms.

Their families and friends can see, if they cannot, that because of the couple’s societal differences, John and Fanny will never be able to wed. Keats’ friend Charles Armitage Brown is staunchest among them, telling the poet that he will lose his freedom as he struggles to provide for what Brown considers to be Fanny’s frivolous needs.

When Keats’ failing health solidifies his reluctant desire to mercifully sever ties with Fanny, they fight to understand and navigate their increasingly passionate relationship under the glare of pre-Victorian stuffiness and Brown’s disapproval.

Bright Star beautifully illustrates all of this, the poignant and celebrated story of John and Fanny’s two-year romance.

Positive Elements

Fanny comes from a loving household that happily embraces the ailing Keats as one of their own. For his part, he is deeply compassionate, diligently caring for his dying brother Tom. Fanny follows suit, tending to both Tom’s and John’s needs through their sicknesses, making gifts, doing kind errands and staying at their bedsides bringing great emotional support.

John and Fanny’s shared love is powerful and transformative. It simultaneously comforts, inspires, focuses and distracts them. Some of Keats’ best poetry was written during the years he knew Fanny. And through his relationship with Fanny and her mother, Keats comes to better understand women.

This is a period piece, and antique English manners are seen in full force. Though deeply in love, Keats and Fanny still call each other Mr. and Miss almost to the end of their relationship: It makes one wonder what our own society would be transformed into if we more often celebrated this now-maligned civility.

Miss Brawne is an industrious and ingenious seamstress/fashion designer who takes pleasure in her craft. Keats delights in his as well, though during his life he does not share the same degree of encouragement and attention that Fanny is given for her work. But despite receiving poor reviews and questioning his literary ability, he writes because he is passionately devoted to working with the words he loves.

For all his abrasiveness, Brown selflessly cares for Keats’ needs as well and loves him deeply. When he can no longer house the poet or accompany him when he travels—because of his own moral and financial weaknesses—he admits he has failed his dear friend. Into this gap, as it were, come other of John’s friends who rally together to fund his passage to Italy in an attempt to improve his health. One of them puts his own life on hold to go with him. If John can be spared the stress of another harsh English winter, they believe he might live.

Spiritual Elements

Heaven is mentioned in verse. Keats talks of the holiness of love. Brown tells Abigail, a kitchen maid who wants to learn how to read, that the Bible isn’t as boring as she might expect. In fact, The Song of Songs, he says, is “juicy” and would make people blush.

A grieving Fanny cries, “There must be another life. You can’t be created for this kind of suffering.” In between sobs, she says “oh god” several times—whether in frustration or to Him it’s difficult to say. In a letter written of his last moments, Keats is quoted as thanking God that the time of his death has finally come.

Sexual Content

John and Fanny’s romance, according to their letters and Bright Star , evolves not from lust, but from a meeting of intellects and hearts. As Fanny reads the poet’s words, she better understands his soul, and as Keats teaches Fanny literature and discusses life with her, he better appreciates hers—though she initially exasperates him.

The real beauty in their romance is that though they’re portrayed as being sexually tempted, their relationship is never carnally consummated. Fanny does offer herself to John, but he gently pushes her away and replies, “I have a conscience.” And I should note that her offer comes in such a veiled manner, younger eyes who see this film won’t even understand it.

So, never mind that John Keats may well be the most famous of the Romantic-era poets, it’s not sexual conquest that consumes him. It’s his moral responsibility and attention to Fanny’s emotional and spiritual wellbeing that shine in this film. Calling the film “prudish,” indiewire.com writer Eric Kohn says of Keats’ noble refusal, “This might sound horribly simplistic, but [ Bright Star ] desperately needs a sex scene. The movie puts such prominent focus on the romantic attraction shared by two characters … and yet the full culmination of their desire remains solely implied. As a result, Bright Star not only takes place in [England] during the 1800s; it seems like a product of that very era. Perhaps that’s the point.”

That is likely the point—as well as the truth. At least that last bit. Because I wholeheartedly refute the notion that the movie desperately needs a sex scene . In a modern world where premarital sex is glorified, ubiquitous and even considered healthy, it’s fabulous that history and a film portray it as sacred.

John and Fanny do kiss passionately a few times onscreen. They also cuddle, fully dressed, on a bed and John talks of a day when he can kiss her “everywhere.” These activities, mild as they may seem to 21st century minds, leave director Jane Campion’s dedication to precise historical accuracy slightly in question since such physical contact would have put Fanny in much greater peril of contracting tuberculosis, which she never did. And because of their culture’s mores, it’s debatable whether even this limited intimacy would have occurred.

A side note: As a result of their relationship, Fanny is subject to scandalous gossip. English history claims that the real-life Brawne was promiscuous, but this might merely be because she enjoyed parties and dancing with the military men in her hometown. Not to mention that she was seen with Keats, a man whom all but she knew she could not marry.

In stark contrast to Keats’ virtue, Brown crudely asks John why he doesn’t “bed” Fanny, thinking that a sexual encounter might help him concentrate on his work again. Brown’s more casual attitude toward sex is also illustrated by his flirtatious alliance with a household maid. When the girl finds she is pregnant, she accuses Brown of being the father. In Bright Star he swears to Keats that the child is not his—though historical accounts indicate otherwise—but he takes financially responsibility for the baby. Keats says of the situation, “In what stumbling ways a new soul is begun.”

Violent Content

Infuriated by Brown’s mockery of Fanny, Keats shoves his friend against a tree by his lapels. He also backs Fanny into a tree in a moment of frustration.

Emotionally distraught, Fanny reportedly asks for a knife “to kill herself.” Though we don’t sense that she’s serious, we see a gouge on Fanny’s wrist before the camera shows us her scissors.

Crude or Profane Language

Fanny yells “d–n” after the frustration of a lovers’ quarrel.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Wine is referenced in poems. Brown smokes.

Other Negative Elements

Fanny and Brown’s relationship is fairly contemptuous, with both slighting the other frequently and assuming the worst of each other’s character. She bitterly accuses him of failing Keats.

To save face, Fanny lies to Brown about having read numerous, lengthy pieces of literature in only a week. And several times Fanny is rude to her siblings and mother while selfishly consumed with her own problems—both real and imagined.

Most would agree with Fanny when she tells Keats, “Poems are a strain to work out.”

Several years ago, at the end of a long spring semester when sunshine and summer vacation were calling my overworked students’ names, I asked an especially weary British literature class whether or not they believed the Romantic poets were real people at all. Their lack of enthusiasm for poetry seemed to indicate that they believed more strongly in the reality of yeti.

Most told me that they felt the likes of Keats and other Romantics were merely dead words on musty pages. I did my best to change that—but the beauty of poetry often gets lost in a pupil’s upcoming chemistry exam or the rush of a basketball game. Then, as adults, we rarely go back to study poems.

That’s a shame, certainly. Writing’s rhythm, historical context, humor and the vibrancy of its authors’ lives may seem meaningless in present-day busyness, but that’s not because they are irrelevant. It’s because we haven’t found ways to bring them to life. Just as Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed, not plodded through in a textbook, poetry was written to be lived.

I wish, then, that I’d had access to this movie while teaching Keats. Bright Star isn’t likely to be a blockbuster—it’ll do well to cover its own costs—but its character, elegantly filmed scenes and well-acted story make it worthy of Keats’ greatness.

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” Keats wrote. “Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” I don’t think it crass to suggest that a modern motion picture such as this can be one of those things of beauty. And I am hopeful that more than a few people will find this perceptive, intellectual film to be a joy in an entertainment industry fraught with mindless explosions, salacious plotlines and crude dialogue.

It certainly brings Keats and his work to glorious life.

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For those who appreciate keats, this masterfully crafted movie does pay tribute to the life trails of a tragic man who feared he'd leave no lasting legacy..

This period drama explores the romantic life of the romantic poet John Keats (played by Ben Wishaw), who fell in love with Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), much to the disapproval of family, friends and proper society.

Release date September 18, 2009

Run Time: 119 minutes

Official Movie Site

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The guide to our grades, parent movie review by donna gustafson.

When Charles Brown (Paul Schneider) asks John Keats (Ben Whishaw) to stay at his home during 1818, he is expecting just to house his penniless friend and to tutor the aspiring young poet. But instead of offering a place to work devoid of distractions, his invitation introduces the twenty-three year old author to the beautiful Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), an eighteen-year-old neighbor.

At first there is only a slight curiosity about one another. Fanny is not much of an admirer of literature, and is consumed by her own dreams of fashion designing and dressmaking. John knows he is in no position to be looking for a wife as he is poor and in frail health, Nor is his work likely to provide an income, as it is largely panned by the critics of the day. Yet the two are slowly drawn together, especially as Fanny shows sympathy for John’s brother, who is living in London and dying of consumption (tuberculosis).

Based on the true story of the romance between what would become one of England’s best-known romantic poets and a simple country seamstress, Bright Star recreates the time period with accuracy and costumes with pure beauty. The cinematography is breathtaking, with various scenes looking like visual poetry.

Unfortunately, the process of penning couplets is as tedious to watch as someone hand-stitching fabric. And as these two activities comprise a large portion of the action in this film, viewers may find the plot rather laborious.

Parents may also be concerned about the obsessive nature of Fanny’s attraction to John, which includes melodramatic antics and verbal references to wanting to kill herself. While there is never any indication of a sexual relationship between them (they do kiss and caress), the script does allude to one between other characters, and even the conception of an illegitimate child. Also, blood is shown when a man suffers from the affects of a devastating disease.

Yet for those who appreciate John Keats, and particularly the words of his poem Bright Star, this masterfully crafted movie does pay tribute to the life trails of a tragic man who feared he’d leave no lasting legacy.

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Bright star rating & content info.

Why is Bright Star rated PG? Bright Star is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic elements, some sensuality, brief language and incidental smoking.

In this dramatized biography of John Keats, characters face the realities of a life threatening disease. Symptoms of Consumption/Tuberculosis are shown, including the blood covered shirt of a character that is having a coughing fit. A young woman becomes deeply depressed when she fails to receive letters from a man she loves, and asks for a knife to kill herself. A small bloody wound is shown. An unmarried couple kisses and caresses. Discussion occurs about an unwed woman who has become pregnant and some mild sexual references are made. One mild profanity is used in the script. Social drinking and smoking is shown.

Page last updated July 25, 2016

Bright Star Parents' Guide

Tuberculosis, which was often called Consumption, was almost an epidemic during the 1800s. Although not much was understood about the disease then, it was believed to be contagious. Why do you think John Keats took the risk of visiting his brother? What does that say about his character? What other people put relationships before their own health?

Click here to learn more about the poet John Keats and his real friend Charles Brown .

The most recent home video release of Bright Star movie is January 26, 2010. Here are some details…

Release Date: 26 January 2010

Bright Star releases to DVD with the following bonus extras: - Deleted Scene. - Featurettes: Becoming Keats and Fanny, Setting the Scene and An Inspiring Romance .

Related home video titles:

The romantic life of other famous English writers are recounted in the movies Shadowlands (C.S. Lewis) and Becoming Jane (Jane Austen). For other period dramas about affairs of the heart, try Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility .

movie review bright star


movie review bright star

What You Need To Know:

(RoRo, B, C, L, V, S, A, M) Strong Romantic worldview about a Romantic poet with surprisingly a positive mention of the Bible, a prominently worn Cross, some appeals to God, and virtuous Christian actions including debauched poet decides to marry the maid when she gets pregnant; one obscenity and five invocations of God; man wracked by tuberculosis and dies, and his brother contracts tuberculosis, scar on wrist implies woman cut herself; kissing and discussions that hero will marry his lover and kiss her all over body; no nudity; alcohol use; no smoking; and, lying rebuked, elitism rebuked, bullying rebuked.

More Detail:

BRIGHT STAR is the sad love story of English poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Set in the early 1800s, the movie is done in a tasteful, Masterpiece Theater fashion that makes it acceptable for almost all audiences.

The director and screenwriter, Jane Campion, takes Fanny’s viewpoint. When they meet, Fanny is 17 and immediately starts flirting with Keats, who is 22. Keats’ roommate and fellow poet, Charles Armitage Brown, is very dismissive and rude toward Fanny. Keats, however, becomes more and more attracted to Fanny after she reaches 18. They get secretly engaged, but Keats’ brother, Tom, dies of tuberculosis.

Keats is not judged a suitable match for Fanny because he has no money and no prospects. His recently published poems are receiving negative critical response and are not selling at all. During their two years together, he writes some of his greatest poems. Eventually, the doctor tells him he must leave for Italy because of his tuberculosis. Thus, the love affair ends tragically.

Keats has become renowned as one of the great Romantic poets. He is softer and more sensuous than the other Romantics. His relationship with Fanny helped him to focus more on love and nature than anything else. He died at 25, so his success is even more amazing.

From his other writings, it can be seen that Keats did not understand Christianity and was horrified at the thought of Jesus Christ’s blood atonement. This aversion to blood probably comes from his father dying in a bloody accident and all the members of his family suffering the bloody coughing spells of tuberculosis. Be that as it may, Keats developed his own naturalistic religion, which he thought was more logical than Christianity, although it was not.

If BRIGHT STAR were edited better, it would have been more compelling. As it is, it is 119 minutes and it should have been 90 minutes.

That said, the movie is beautifully crafted with great attention to detail. Furthermore, despite Keats’ Romantic worldview, the movie affirms morality, especially when his friend Charles Brown marries the maid that he got pregnant. Several other people do the right thing in the movie, which contradicts the Romantic creedo of “follow your own heart.” There are also vague deathbed appeals to God and a prominently displayed Christian cross, as well as a mention of the Bible.

BRIGHT STAR is a love story, but there is no sex, except for some playful kissing. Also, Keats says he would like to kiss Fanny all over her body when they get married. Aside from that, this is a very chaste love story.

Those who like the poetry of John Keats and those who like period pieces will enjoy BRIGHT STAR.

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The Silver Petticoat Review

Film Review: Bright Star – A Deeply Affecting Love Story

Bright star film review.

Bright Star is a film by Jane Campion (director of The Piano ) about the love story between Fanny Brawne and John Keats. The passionate letters that passed between them during his last few years are actually available still in several publications and biographies. It is a quiet, thoughtful and deeply affecting love story.

Bright Star kiss

Fanny Brawne is a young woman with a fondness for wit and a talent for designing her own fashion. She meets a young, melancholy poet through their shared acquaintance, Mr. Brown. The man is John Keats. They strike up a friendship which quickly develops into love before anyone can stop it. Fanny becomes his muse. They cannot marry as Keats is penniless and those close to them attempt to keep them apart for their own good. Yet the young couple will not be denied and fall deeply in love. However, Keats becomes ill after suffering prolonged exposure to the elements. It may even be the same affliction that killed his brother.

Bright Star Keats with Brown

Bright Star is a small, quiet film but is no less moving for that fact. Indeed, it is perhaps due to this that it feels more real than many other period dramas. The pace is quite slow and meditative which wasn’t a problem for me, but some may find it unappealing because of this. Slow does not, in this case, mean boring. Every moment is imbued with importance and there is a simple intensity of feeling to the entire production.

Bright Star a dance

Bright Star is also quite beautiful. It was shot almost entirely on a single location outside of London. Most of the story takes place in a house deep in the countryside, surrounded by lush greenery and bluebell bedecked forest. The costumes are eye-catching, especially Fanny’s, which are unusual creations that she has made herself. Great attention is paid to the color palette used in each individual scene which makes it all very visually appealing.

Related Post |  Belle Film Review 

Bright Star walking

The love story is beautiful too and deeply poignant. Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish bring raw, emotional performances to the film that definitely enhance it. History has already sealed the fate of the lovers but you still desperately want them to find the happiness they so long for. It is an innocent, sweet old-fashioned love story that is still surprisingly free of cliche.

Bright Star refusing to see sense

Bright Star is a tender, emotional journey about first love and heartbreak. It is also a celebration of John Keats who was, in my opinion, the greatest of the Romantic poets.

Content Note: There is no sex or nudity. A bloody shirt is seen briefly from a man with consumption. There is a single instance of profanity.

Photo Credit:Apparition / Warner Bros


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“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

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Elinor is a writer and semi-recent graduate of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. She has been writing ever since she could hold a pen but her love affair with fiction started when the entirety of David Eddings’ 'The Belgariad' was read to her at age four. She currently has a couple of books and half a dozen short stories on the go. She spends her free time writing, analysing media and knitting very colourful scarves.

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Summary London 1818: a secret love affair begins between 23 year old English poet, John Keats, and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne, and outspoken student of fashion. This unlikely pair started at odds, he thinking her a stylish minx, she unimpressed by literature in general. It was the illness of Keats' younger brother that drew them together. ... Read More

Directed By : Jane Campion

Written By : Andrew Motion, Jane Campion

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"Just like the stars, the brightest ones are the most fleeting and collapse into the deepest, darkest black holes," says the unnamed hero of "Brightest Star" at the movie's onset. The faux-profundity of the observation is a trifle undercut by the fact that we aren't sure what the object of the comparison is. I suppose we are meant to assume it is the beautiful young woman with blonde hair seen in several sunlit shots, the views of her smile accompanied by an insistent wimpy guitar-or-piano chord and some tinkling glockenspiel, or high school band xylophone, or vibes, I don't know. Lack of specificity in the writing aside, the opening of "Brightest Star"—which had its title changed, to no avail, from "Light Years"—tells the viewer loud and clear that this trek is not going to lead anyplace new.

The unnamed protagonist ( Chris Lowell ) awakes from an emotional hangover with his hair nevertheless perfect, and unburdens himself to the free-and-easy young couple that are taking possession of the apartment that little-miss-bright-star (this character actually gets a name, Charlotte, and is played by Rose McGiver) and he once shared. We are given to understand that this is a boy-loses-girl narrative, and Boy utters all of the drippy commonplaces that signal that he is a Fellow Of Tender Feeling who is on his way to Learning A Valuable Lesson About Life And Love And Himself. "When she showed up I felt like I knew where I was supposed to go—to her," he mutters in hushed awe. "It was magic. She made me feel…right." I'm digging you, buddy. Remember that Van Halen song, "When It's Love?" Man, Sammy Hagar called it. Right? No?

No, maybe not, because during the movie's obligatory montage of he's-going-that-way/she's-going-this-way cohabitative discontent, the music is something called "Can't Let Go," a dribbly electronic quasi-funk number from one Christopher Norman, which plays out in its (seeming) entirety. That's one way to kill time in an 80-minute-movie that has a narrative more suited to a twenty-minute one that would have been better off not having been made at all. This is a movie that so privileges the perspective of the good-looking foofy-haired white male that it makes you understand the absolutely pejorative aspect of the term "heteronormative." Oddly enough, though, the movie was directed and co-written by a woman, Maggie Kiley (who's also an actress, although she doesn't appear in the picture).

After the unnamed fella drops his phony yuppie job and gets a gig working as a janitor in an observatory (longish story, and again, not very interesting), the movie touches on an almost interesting idea. After asking an astronomer played by Allison Janney to show him something that happened four years ago (because of light years, get it, and stars and stuff, and, yes, four years ago was when he and Iris…you know), she asks him what he's doing there. He replies, "I thought I'd find my calling…I had this fantasy that being here would ignite some part of my brain I didn't know about, and that suddenly, without any mathematical or scientific skill, some astronomical superhero would emerge, like it was always meant to be if I just had the guts to give it a try." This not uncommon delusion could fuel a good movie someday. It arrives too late to save this one, not that it necessarily could have. 

Watching "Brightest Star," I thought of the Pere Ubu song "Ice Cream Truck," in which David Thomas sings "There's too much music in the land, you hear it everywhere." I also thought of New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis' much-taken-to-task recent observations concerning movie glut . This review is not the proper vehicle in which to expand upon these thoughts, but if and when I do, "Brightest Star" would not be an inapt Exhibit A.

Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny was the chief film critic of Premiere magazine for almost half of its existence. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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The 2009 film “Bright Star,” directed by Jane Campion, is a visually stunning and emotionally charged portrayal of the tragic love affair between the iconic English poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. This cinematic adaptation masterfully captures the essence of Keats’ life and poetry while weaving a narrative that transcends the constraints of time. In reimagining Keats’ love story, the movie delves into the intricacies of passion, creativity, and the ephemeral nature of life.

At the heart of “Bright Star” is the tender and tumultuous romance between John Keats and Fanny Brawne, portrayed with raw emotion by Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish, respectively. The film goes beyond the historical narrative, delving into the emotional landscapes of the characters. Fanny, a vivacious and independent young woman, becomes a symbol of the muse that inspired some of Keats’ most celebrated works. The movie portrays their love as a delicate dance between two souls, each profoundly affected by the other’s presence.

The film’s title, “Bright Star,” is a direct reference to one of Keats’ sonnets, and it serves as a poignant metaphor for the fleeting nature of love and life. The use of Keats’ own words in the screenplay connects the narrative to the poet’s oeuvre, infusing the film with an authenticity that resonates with both literary enthusiasts and those unfamiliar with Keats’ work. The incorporation of the sonnet “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art” becomes a thematic anchor, underscoring the bittersweet reality of love’s transience.

Moreover, the film humanizes Keats, depicting him not just as a literary figure but as a man grappling with passion, poverty, and the specter of mortality. The portrayal of Keats’ struggles as an artist and his untimely death at the age of 25 adds a layer of poignancy to the narrative. “Bright Star” invites the audience to empathize with Keats’ journey, making the film a tribute to the enduring spirit of creativity in the face of adversity.

In conclusion, “Bright Star” is a cinematic gem that reimagines John Keats’ love story with elegance and depth. Through its artistic brilliance and emotional resonance, the film brings the poetry of Keats to life, inviting viewers to experience the beauty and heartbreak that defined the poet’s brief but impactful existence. By seamlessly blending historical accuracy with poetic license, “Bright Star” transcends the conventions of biographical cinema, offering a timeless exploration of love, loss, and the enduring power of artistic expression.

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Maestro — Bradley Cooper's cinematic symphony — soars

The actor who dreamt of conducting as a boy brings his passion project to the screen.

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There's an old dictum in screenwriting: start late and end early. The idea is to boil every scene down to its essentials. That spirit carries throughout the remarkable new film Maestro which Bradley Cooper directed, co-wrote and starred as the iconic composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein.

While the story stretches from 1943 to 1989, Cooper sketches Bernstein's life with a series of vignettes, glimpses of success and frustration scattered over decades. Like music notes on a page, each builds to the next. The result is a cinematic symphony that is itself an ode to a complicated kind of love. 

The film opens in a black box of a sort, the bright lights of New York City smothered behind a heavy curtain as young Bernstein lounges in bed with his lover. The phone rings, and it's destiny calling, a chance to conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, broadcast live across the country. 

Ecstatic, Bernstein rips back the curtain, yelling "You got 'em boy!" Then, as if to capture the sense of excitement, Cooper bends space and time as the conductor bursts out of his apartment, dashing down the hallway to arrive in Carnegie Hall in one fluid camera movement.

movie review bright star

Maestro a stunning portrait of a complicated love story

A film about feelings.

It doesn't make sense, but it doesn't have to. For a film about a man who only truly felt free behind the podium, Maestro is a film about feelings, capturing the giddy thrill of an orchestra in full flight, the symphony soaring as the conductor raises his arms to the heavens. 

It is also the story Cooper has been dreaming of telling for years. Before A Star is Born and The Hangover , he was a kid growing up outside Philadelphia.

  • A Star is Born: 9 ways Bradley Cooper paid homage to older versions of the Hollywood classic

As Cooper told CBS News, watching cartoons such as Bugs Bunny conducting  was what first inspired his interest. When he was eight, he asked Santa for a baton.

Cooper later told  Maestro executive producer Steven Spielberg that as a child, he would play Bernstein records and imagine himself leading the orchestra. 

But enthusiasm is not enough to step into the persona of Leonard Bernstein, one of the most recognizable figures of modern classical music. 

Director Bradley Cooper in costume as  Leonard Bernstein frames a shot with  Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre in Maestro.

For the physical aspects, make-up artist Kazu Hiro, who transformed Gary Oldman into Winston Churchhill, was recruited to blend Cooper into Bernstein.

Hiro created a series of distinct looks to capture the different decades, including a prosthetic nose. While news that the non-Jew Cooper used a fake nose to play the Jewish composer created an initial backlash , the effect is quite subtle.

Not only does Cooper already have a prominent nose, but the make-up is so much more than that, capturing the deep lines, the eventual liver spots, even the wispy silver hairs on elderly Bernstein's arms in scenes that bookend the film. 

  • Audio Bradley Cooper's prosthetic nose for Maestro, and Oliver Anthony’s unlikely hit
  • Bradley Cooper wore a fake nose to play a famous Jew. Critics say it plays into antisemitic tropes

For all the make-up and hours of daily preparation, Cooper does some of his best acting with his eyes.

When we first met young Lenny they're delicate and shining, especially as the composer spots the love of his life, Felicia Montealegre. Just before they meet at a party, Cooper sets the scene; when Felicia gets off a bus, the lush music of Bernstein's On the Town swells as she steps into the light. 

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre in Maestro. .

The woman in the wings

This was part of Cooper's initial inspiration, setting Bernstein's music — selections from West Side Story, Candide, Mass and more — to accompany his life story. 

But if Maestro is a cinematic symphony, the musical motif it revolves around is the woman in the wings, his wife, Felicia Montealegre.

There's a bit of Katherine Hepburn to Carey Mulligan's take on Felicia. The same rat-a-tat rhythms of her speech and certainly Hepburn's independent streak.

When they meet, Felicia has her own life and career. She's a rising star on Broadway with seemingly no illusions about the man she loves, telling Lenny, "I know exactly who you are." 

As Bernstein himself says at one point, "I love people so much it's hard to be alone." But his appetites are never clearer than during a daring dance sequence when the young composer shows Montealegre a number from On the Town featuring a trio of dancing sailors. As one dancer beckons, it's clear Lenny wants more than the woman next to him.

In a blink, the scene shifts, and now it's Bernstein in the sailor suit, Cooper cavorting and strutting, and as men and woman rush in, the scene ends with outstretched hands fading into two pairs of feet intertwined under sheets.

Lenny and Felicia are alone at last, at least for the moment.  

 Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre in Maestro.

As the film progresses from black and white to the rich, earthy Kodak colours of the 1970s, Cooper pulls back on the cinematic stunts to focus on the cost of Felicia's choice.

At the outset, she talked about sacrifice, seemingly wanting to support and nourish Bernstein's talents. But the strain of the façade begins to show. It's easier for Lenny, the great artist, who talks about artists casting off anything that restrains them. 

In a later scene Lenny pulls into Bernstein's actual Connecticut home, where their children, now teens, are gathered. With the Jets theme from West Side Story bouncing in the background Lenny and his many man friends tumble out of the car. But when Bernstein celebrates the completion of the theatre piece  Mass , as the rest of the family applauds, Felicia bolts, plunging into the swimming pool fully clothed. 

Cooper frames the moment with a slow close-up, the camera pushing in on Bernstein laughing at first, then his smile fading as the moment of realization dawns, seeing Felicia hiding in the serene blue water, perhaps the only refuge from his ego.  

An unbridled sense of joy

But there she is, at what is arguably the pinnacle of Maestro , a stunning performance in the Ely Cathedral for the performance of Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony . 

You can compare for yourself the real archive recording of the event, versus Cooper's recreation, seen below. 

While Cooper prepared for six years, studying with Canada's Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the music director of the Metropolitan Opera, what Maestro captures in the scene is more than mimicry.

  • How Montreal conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin prepared Bradley Cooper for Maestro role

What connects the real and the recreation is the unbridled sense of joy. As the cathedral vibrates with the voices soaring, the violinists bowing themselves into a frenzy, Cooper as Bernstein is in thrall — his hair a sweaty mess, the baton a blur.

He is the conductor as the conduit, and afterward, as always, there she is, embracing, celebrating, telling him, "There's no hate. There's no hate in your heart." 

Maestro is open in select theatres now, coming to Netflix Dec. 20. 


movie review bright star

Senior entertainment reporter

Eli Glasner is the senior entertainment reporter and screentime columnist for CBC News. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee Ontario to the Oscars and beyond.  You can reach him at [email protected].

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Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune

‘Maestro’ review: Bradley Cooper wields the baton as Leonard Bernstein. But Carey Mulligan conducts the movie.

Posted: November 29, 2023 | Last updated: December 1, 2023

Netflix must be doing something right. Killing its own movies’ theatrical prospects prior to streaming, however, isn’t it. It’s stupid, certainly in the case of “Maestro,” the new film from director, co-writer, producer and star Bradley Cooper.

It opens this week in theaters, but not so’s you’d notice. In Chicago, it’s opening in theater, singular. The Landmark Century Centre Cinema. The Netflix streaming premiere arrives Dec. 20.

For a movie made with full, scrutinizing consent of the Leonard Bernstein estate and surviving family members, “Maestro” is considerably more interesting, nuanced and engaging than the usual squaresville biopic. Millions crave Bernstein’s music, and it’s all over the movie, often to striking effect. Bernstein’s legacy remains huge and vital, thanks (for starters) to “On the Town,” “Candide” ( the overture alone, taken at the preferable tempo, in the key of wheeee! , is reason enough to rejoice) and “West Side Story.”

Bernstein, known to his friends as Lenny, raced through the time he had. His eternally debated standing as the first 20th century American superstar conductor, his restless bisexual affairs, his marriages and children … we could go on, and certainly Bernstein did, until his death at 72 in 1990. Any and all parts of his tumult of a life make for juicy cinematic exploration.

Cooper’s second feature as director follows his hit 2018 remake of “A Star is Born.” It focuses on Bernstein’s marriage, in 1951, to actress Felicia Montealegre, played by top-billed Carey Mulligan. After a prologue, Cooper’s screenplay, written with Josh Singer (”Spotlight,” “First Man”), begins in 1943, in a bed. Bernstein, then 25, is assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic and itching for more. He gets a phone call: Guest conductor Bruno Walter has the flu and can’t make it. The Carnegie Hall concert must go on, that night. Bernstein takes over, no rehearsal, huge success. The man in Bernstein’s bed at the time is one of many affairs to come.

“Maestro” darts and hops around, bracingly; it’s a little like flipping through a big, stylish scrapbook, more or less but not strictly in chronological order. Bernstein’s first date with the Costa Rican-Chilean Montealegre, a recent New York arrival, is scored to the 1944 Bernstein “Fancy Free” ballet music, the direct inspiration for the Broadway musical “On the Town.” It’s a whirlwind passage on screen, halfway to a musical-theater dream ballet (at one point Cooper as Bernstein becomes one of the three sailors on leave). Early scenes from their lives together, and apart, are shot in black and white; scenes later in the chronology appear in color.

From the start Felicia knew about Lenny’s affairs, and tried to make her peace with them. She also knew she’d be living a life surrounded by acolytes worshipping at what she called “the L.B. altar.” Though Mulligan’s top-billed, the film doesn’t quite justify that; as with Cooper’s “Star is Born,” Cooper as director has a penchant for gently big-footing a final cut out from under his female co-star.

Much of the later parts of “Maestro” deal with Felicia’s cancer and her death at 56, as well as with Bernstein’s compartmentalized lives, at last consumed by the crisis unfolding. Here, “Maestro” rightly slows its tempo. Rather than playing that part of her story as a prolonged exit, Mulligan, who is superb throughout, takes each moment as it comes, and the result is an unusually truthful (as far as I know) depiction of this woman’s painful, complicated farewell.

Earlier in the film, a similarly gripping key sequence focuses on a long-delayed burst of emotion in a sustained single-take argument in the Bernstein’s New York apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It doesn’t look, feel, act or build like a movie argument; it feels like life, and it’s bracingly well-acted by Mulligan and Cooper. The sight of a huge inflated Snoopy balloon floating by outside the window — it’s Thanksgiving Day — is the perfect ironic complement.

Not everything in the film works on that level. There are times when Cooper’s vocal and physical details as Bernstein at various stages in his life, from his 20s to his early 70s, come off as meticulous mimicry rather than an impression (not the Rich Little kind) of the man. That, plus the extensive and high-grade prosthetics, add up to a lot, though I’m with the Anti-Defamation League’s favorable assessment of Cooper’s controversial Bernstein nose. (The earliest photos of Cooper in costume and makeup did the prosthetics no favors.) Wildly talented in many directions, Cooper still has a few things to learn as a performer about the art and value of processing years of research with a little more selectivity.

The supporting players don’t get much screen time, but they’re excellent: Sarah Silverman as Bernstein’s seen-it-all sister, Shirley, for example, or Matt Bomer as musician David Oppenheim, one of Bernstein’s lovers. The celebrity couple at the heart of “Maestro” was what they used to call “a New York marriage,” at a time when out-and-proud homosexual lives were lived at extreme risk. The movie is discreet, perhaps to a fault, but Cooper captures the seductive hunger and the flamboyance of his subject, who dashed through his years as if guided by the line from “Sweet Smell of Success,” spoken by Tony Curtis: “In brief, from now on, the best of everything is good enough for me.”

Part of “Maestro” stylize the action set to music, akin to the way the undervalued Elton John biopic “Rocket Man” literally levitated its star on the rise in his Los Angeles debut. The peaks of Cooper’s sophomore feature run on the rocket fuel of Bernstein’s particular musical drive. According to daughter Jamie Bernstein’s memoir, Felicia sacrificed a lot — everything, really. The movie doesn’t go that far; even if “Maestro” would’ve been stronger had it concerned itself more with Felicia, that’s not the movie Cooper made. But it doesn’t duck the messy, unresolved contradictions, the way so many movies about famous artists do.

There’s a lot to argue about here, in other words. And “Maestro” is movie enough to have deserved an actual theatrical run prior to the Netflix streaming morass.

Update: This story has corrected information about Leonard Bernstein’s marriage.

“Maestro” — 3 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: R (for some language and drug use)

Running time: 2:09

How to watch: Chicago premiere Dec. 1 at Landmark Century Centre, 2828 N. Clark St.; Netflix streaming premiere Dec. 20.

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

[email protected]

Twitter @phillipstribune

©2023 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein Biopic Is Fantastic

Maestro is a wonderful look at the composer that dives headfirst into his brilliant work and complicated inner life.

Bradley Cooper in “Maestro”

One early scene in Bradley Cooper’s Maestro delivers the kind of creaky exposition a viewer might expect from a major biographical film arriving in the thick of Oscar season. A young Leonard Bernstein (played by Cooper) is at lunch with one of his mentors, who suggests that he change his last name to something like “Burns” in order to seem less Jewish to a mainstream audience. It’s something that really happened, an example of the barriers that Bernstein had to break through in his career. But as dramatic material, the moment is presented as a piece of info to be dumped into the audience’s lap.

Thankfully, Maestro , which was also directed by Cooper, is no staid biopic. Midway through this conversation, Bernstein asks his companion (and later wife), Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan), if she wants to leave. When she says yes, he grabs her by the arm and magically transports them both out of the scene and to a theatrical stage. Out of nowhere, a ballet erupts around them; sailors dance to “Fancy Free” (a song that inspired Bernstein’s musical On the Town ) and the composer jumps among them in his Navy whites. This film isn’t some boring lecture, Cooper is telling the audience. If you want to understand this man, you need to be inside the great work he did.

The scene also wonderfully illustrates Bernstein’s connection with Felicia, a deep and lifelong partnership nonetheless riddled with turmoil because of his affairs (mostly with men). Bernstein’s commitment to his art—composing, conducting, and generally serving as a famed ambassador of classical music—is the crux of Maestro . But Cooper juxtaposes Bernstein’s outward interests with the inward, private unrest he felt over the chaos of his love life. Felicia both serves as a stabilizing force against the pressures of fame and suffers as an oft-ignored romantic partner.

Read: Speaking of music

In short, this is a movie about Bernstein’s passions, and how they benefited and sabotaged him over his long career. A viewer signing up for a traditional soup to nuts explainer of the composer’s life might leave disappointed. There are no scenes of him thoughtfully composing the score to West Side Story in his study, nor thorough explanations of his political activism, even though Cooper and his co-writer, Josh Singer, bounce forwards and backwards through the major events of his life. They seem less interested in digging through the details than in capturing a mood, putting the audience in the whizzy headspace of a man constantly overflowing with creative energy and usually struggling to find the best ways to channel it. We see dream ballets and triumphant performances of Mahler, but also ruminative interviews revealing Bernstein’s angst about not composing enough in his lifetime.

I’m still somewhat surprised that Cooper, an actor once known as the eager-beaver sixth lead on the TV show Alias , has evolved into one of the most exciting and ambitious voices in filmmaking. His 2018 remake of A Star Is Born left me flabbergasted; he turned a rusty old piece of Hollywood mythmaking into a modern love story that felt swoony, dazzling, and still somehow earthy. In that film, Cooper played a fictional musician wrestling with his demons. Here, as Bernstein, he’s clad in layers of makeup (the controversial nose looks less pronounced in action) that impressively mimic the man’s real face but somehow make him feel harder to reach.

Though Bernstein is the center of the story, and the character everyone revolves around, his unknowability is crucial to Maestro . Instead, Mulligan’s Felicia functions more as the film’s heart. Real love exists between the central couple, even as Felicia is well aware of Bernstein’s relationships with men before she marries him. The friction that emerges between them over the years is rooted less in betrayal and more in Bernstein’s periods of emotional withdrawal, as he pours himself into other partnerships and into his work. Being an artist demands that Bernstein plumb his unspoken obsessions, but he struggles to present a safe face to the world, and Cooper conflates Bernstein having to stay in the closet with the madness of celebrity.

So as Maestro touches on Bernstein’s compositions, personal dalliances, and later-in-life family tragedies, it becomes clearer and clearer that this is also a biographical film about what didn’t happen. Cooper’s performance is loaded with remorse—over projects unrealized, over the way Bernstein’s celebrity got in the way of him generating new music, and of course over his fundamental inability to figure out exactly what he wanted in his love life. It’s a celebration of the man, but also a quiet tragedy, with many regrets piling up to a muted and devastating conclusion.


Review: beyoncé's 'renaissance' might be the best superhero movie of 2023.

Of course, everyone is going to compare the new Beyoncé film to the other concert movie put out this fall by a heavily-sequined pop megastar with one of the biggest tours of the century. Forget Taylor Swift, though.

Better comparisons for "Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé" might be to "Captain Marvel," "Spider-Man," "Ant-Man" and "Guardians of the Galaxy." This one is a superhero movie all the way.

There are shiny, body-enhancing costumes, high-flying stunts, constant action, robotic creatures, high-tech gadgets and a climactic finale of the hero riding on screen atop a sparkling horse. There's even an origin story in "Renaissance" — a pretty good one, too.

Directed by Beyoncé herself and filmed throughout her 56-show Renaissance Tour — alas, there doesn't appear to be any footage from July's date at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — the movie is about three-quarters a concert film and one-quarter a behind-the-scenes documentary.

The concert scenes are eye-popping and heart-pounding. Granted, making Beyoncé look good on camera is probably as easy a job for a filmmaker as making Nazis look bad, but the 42-year-old singer absolutely glows and captivates throughout the film.

On top of her natural charisma, she goes through a department store's worth of costume changes in the movie — even including different outfits during the same song. That happens thanks to footage from different cities being spliced together. Those sudden changes are a bit disjointed and lessen the "live" aspect of the film, but you're often too busy marveling at the alternating outfits to care.

The cameras probably could have stayed squarely aimed at Beyoncé for the whole film and no one would have complained, but all the other people and scenery shown on screen make it an even better concert movie.

Those extras include scenes showing off dance rehearsals and the technology behind her hi-fi production and the daunting grunt work of the stage crew assembling the massive show. That stage crew, by the way, was unusually loaded with women.

Best of all — and this is one quality Bey's movie has over Taylor's — audience members are also prominently featured in all the concert scenes. There might not be a more inspiringly diverse crowd than the Beyhive, and seeing those fans having the time of their lives together might be an even more beautiful site than the Queen herself.

As for the origin story, old footage is dropped in here and there from Beyoncé's childhood in Houston and her early work as a performer. Even sweeter, she gives screen time to two of the big things that inspired her "Renaissance" album: The LGBTQ ballroom and drag dance community and her late gay uncle and former co-stylist — Uncle Jonny from her song "Heated."

Along with new footage of Beyonce with her three kids and husband — daughter Blue Ivy gets way more screen time than Jay-Z, another smart move — the non-concert footage actually does serve to explain what's happening onstage. The scenes with Blue Ivy, in particular, wind up being some of the most poignant in explaining who and what runs Beyoncé's world.

It's all a lot to cram into one film, and ultimately the 2-hour, 48-minute run time does seem about a half-hour too much. But hey, isn't every superhero movie too long these days?

'Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé'

3½ stars out of 4

Rated: Not rated.

Where: In theaters Friday.

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