Time Out New York Project: Issue #729, September 17-23, 2009
Dir. Jane Campion. 2009. PG. 119mins. Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Paul Schneider.
Few people, so Bright Star would have it, are as prone to cuddle-bunny canoodling as morbidly smitten Romantic poets. Exhibit A: John Keats (Whishaw)—author of such lyric verses as “Lamia” and “Endymion”—who does some clothes-on spooning with droopy British country girl Fanny Brawne (Cornish) in between woebegone bouts of artistic malaise. The critics are cruel, and the fates are crueler. Those familiar with the duo’s doomed liaison know that Keats has a premature date with Lady Tubercular, while Brawne is just a banshee’s wail away from strutting mournfully along the foggy moors.
Writer-director Jane Campion approaches the tale with an artiste’s respectful solemnity, but it too often comes off like Twilight transplanted across oceans and centuries. The vampire in this case is Keats’s mentor Charles Armitage Brown, whom Paul Schneider entertainingly plays as a mood-killing macho dandy. His grating, confrontational brogue is his Wildean swish, and he does all he can to keep Keats, platonically, to himself. Campion has an undeniable talent for casting peripheral roles: Brawne’s two siblings, Samuel (Thomas Sangster) and “Toots” (Edie Martin), seem as if they’ve stepped, coattailed and frill-adorned, out of a far-gone past. Such at-the-margins excellence unfortunately makes the pallid, modern-day mooniness of Whishaw and Cornish look all the more like a sore thumb.—Keith Uhlich