A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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).
- Parents say
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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?
- In theaters: September 18, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: January 26, 2010
- Cast: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider
- Director: Jane Campion
- Studio: Miramax
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, some sensuality, brief language and incidental smoking
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