Bright Star is a die-hard romantic’s romance, eschewing tawdriness in favor of shy smiles, stolen glances and soft kisses. It helps, of course, that half of its pas de deux is John Keats (Ben Whishaw), the frail Romantic poet who died of tuberculosis in 1821 at age 25. By including snippets of Keats’s most personal poems, the film bathes itself in the sort of idealized love that was at the heart of his poetry.
Keats penned the poem “Bright Star” (“Bright Star, would I were steadfast as thou art”) to Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), his landlady’s 18-year-old daughter. Brawne was a talented seamstress who cared little for poetry, but she came to adore the sensitive Keats, longing for him from afar as he buried himself in his study seeking inspiration. Watching her through the window, he gradually came to reciprocate.