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Film / Bright Star

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Bright Star is a Biopic based on the last three years of the life of John Keats, the great Romantic Era poet who died of tuberculosis at the ripe old age of twenty-five. In particular, it views Keats through the lens of his muse and Love Interest, Fanny Brawne. Abbie Cornish stars as Brawne, and Ben Whishaw co-stars as Keats.

Written and directed by Jane Campion, who had previously directed The Piano.

The film's title is a reference to Keats' sonnet "Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art", which he dedicated to Brawne.

This movie provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: John Keats stood five feet tall in his boots, but that wouldn't work well for the male lead in a romantic movie. For that matter, contemporary accounts describe Brawne more as charming than as classically beautiful.
  • Alpha Bitch: Brown worries that Brawne is an Alpha Bitch. Initially, Keats shares his concern. Turns out instead she's not malicious.
  • Anti-Villain: Brown. While he comes between the main couple, his genuinely good intentions and very sympathetic nature and love for his friends endears him to the audience.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Fanny finds out that Keats is ill when she finds blood-stained linen (he's not seen coughing blood at that point, but the implications are pretty clear).
  • Boy Meets Girl: Although if you know anything about Keats, you know how it ends.
  • Brainless Beauty: Brown accuses Brawne of being one. He's wrong, but she's definitely uneducated in comparison to him and Keats. Also, let's face it, she'd have to be quite a Teen Genius herself to have any chance of not seeming brainless in comparison with John Keats.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Brawne often views her kid sister Toots this way.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Brown seems to view Keats this way. Yet Keats managed to churn out poems — brilliant poems — at a rate few other poets in history could match. Before he turned twenty-five, he was already too sick to write, but between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-four he had managed to produce literally hundreds of important poems, some of them seminal works of the Romantic Era. Lazy? I think not.
  • Costume Porn: Personified in one Fanny Brawne, the Coco Chanel of early-nineteenth-century Hampstead. (The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.)
  • Deadpan Snarker: Brown most of all. But also Brawne and even Keats himself when he's not being all quiet and sullen.
  • Death Is Dramatic: Averted, which is unusual for Bio Pic. We only find out Keats has died when Fanny gets the news from Brown, and even then we only get a few brief shots of his coffin.
  • Demoted to Extra: As a result of the film being from Fanny's perspective rather than Keats', Leigh Hunt, Joseph Severn, and everyone else in Keats' life except the Brawne family and Mr. Brown. For that matter, Keats' rivals for Brawne's affection barely even register in the movie.
  • Disappeared Dad: Keats' parents have died. Brawne's father has, too.
  • Downer Ending: Keats goes to Italy, hoping that the warmer climate will improve his condition and he can marry Fanny when he returns. Instead, he dies there and Fanny is left devastated.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Frances "Fanny" Brawne. Although Keats has a kid sister and a (dead) mother with the same name, so he's in no position to mock her. Also Margaret "Toots" Brawne, Fanny's kid sister.
  • Foregone Conclusion: At least to anyone who has read anything about Keats' life.
  • Foreshadowing: Not surprising, since Keats' poetry and letters are themselves full of allusions to early death.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Tom Keats, John's brother, who dies of tuberculosis. His death is useful to show that Brawne is beginning to really care about Keats — she stays up all night to sew a beautiful pillowcase for his coffin — but once he's served his plot point he's more or less forgotten by the movie and everyone in it.
  • Girl Next Door: Possibly. Brawne literally lives next door to Keats, but how well she fits the trope is open to debate.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: Not within the movie, which presents Fanny as deeply and inexorably in love with Keats. The Real Life Fanny Brawne married someone else, had children, and lived on another four decades after Keats' death— but only after she had been in mourning for him for twelve years.
  • Hidden Depths: Keats is surprised to find that Brawne is not the Brainless Beauty she has been made out to be.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Brown desperately wants to be a great poet but he is painfully aware that he is nowhere near as talented as Keats and, as such, tries to live vicariously through his works.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Toned way down to make the movie palatable (read: romantic) to mainstream audiences.
  • Indirect Kiss: In a letter to Fanny, Keats writes: "write the softest words and kiss them that I may at least touch my lips where yours have been."
  • Instant Illness: Justified, as Keats was already ill at the time.
  • Insufferable Genius: Brown. (Not much of a genius compared with John Keats, but then, who among us is?)
  • Interrupted Suicide: A non-serious example, played mostly for laughs.
    • By contrast, Keats' own quite serious suicide attempts are skipped completely. They weren't very funny.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Brown really does care for Keats and looks up to him (so to speak) a great deal, despite his brash demeanor and seeming desire to work the man to death.
  • Love Martyr: Brawne — though it's less Keats himself that's the problem and more his circumstance.
    • Brown's scullery maid is arguably more characteristic of the trope, although she's too minor a character for us to know for sure. (This is true of the Real Life woman, as well— we don't know what became of her.)
  • Love Triangle: Brawne and Brown nearly come to blows over Keats. Repeatedly.
  • Manchild: Keats, Brown, and Brawne. Brawne has the excuse that she's barely an adult at all when we first meet her.
    • And Keats is twenty-two. Brown, however, is in his thirties and has no good excuse for his petulance.
  • Meet Cute: The spilled coffee scene.
  • Meido: Brown becomes romantically entangled with his scullery maid. A scathing bit of Hypocritical Humor considering all he's said about Brawne up to that point.
  • Melodrama: When it's not trying to be a Romantic Comedy, Bright Star is well-done but unapologetic melodrama.
  • Missing Mom: Keats' parents have died.
  • The Mole: A Discussed Trope. Keats initially views Fanny as at least potentially this.
  • The Muse: Brawne. Although at first she insists she'd rather amuse and be amused than muse, bemuse, or be a muse.
    • Although the movie generally skips over this, it's also worth noting that Keats had a few muses before Brawne, including a pretty and brilliant young woman named Isabella Jones, with whom Keats shared a "flirtation" that overlapped somewhat with the time he knew Brawne. She has not merely been Demoted to Extra but completely expunged from the movie's account, and in fact scholars don't really know what became of her. (Did Keats dump her for Brawne? Did she dump him to marry someone else with better financial prospects?) For that matter, Keats was perfectly capable of producing a brilliant poem without the involvement of any romantic muse, and only a minority of poems are truly love poems.
  • Never Learned to Read: Brown's scullery maid. A Justified Trope given the time and place. Becomes a plot point (and a bit of Hypocritical Humor) when Brown offers to teach her how to read.
  • Oblivious to Love: Arguably, Keats toward Brown.
  • One-Steve Limit: An Averted Trope, in the case of Brown and Brawne. At least if you leave aside that they're surnames, not given names.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: In Brawne's dresses, even the flounces have their own flounces.
  • Romantic Comedy: Displays quite a few characteristics of this, despite the Foregone Conclusion Downer Ending.
  • Rule of Drama: It's a Bio Pic, not a documentary, so the lives of Keats, Brown, and Brawne are streamlined from the messiness of real life into a borderline-melodramatic romance. Anything that doesn't further the plot is pushed to the side or completely cut. Conversely, things that never happened are added, for the same reasons.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Keats, toward Brown. In more ways than one.
  • Separated by the Wall: In separate but adjoining bedrooms, Keats and Brawne each lie abed and place a hand on the wall, to make it seem as if somehow, by magic, their hands are touching. Neither of them has any way of knowing that the other is doing this at all, yet their hands still align perfectly.
  • Teen Genius: Not literally a teenager, but Keats is only twenty-two at the start of the film.
  • Theme Naming: The Brawne sisters: Fanny and Toots. To some extent, an example of Having a Gay Old Time, as they were common nicknames in that era. Be that as it may, if Shakespeare had had sisters named Fanny and Toots alongside Mistress Quickly, you can bet that the local countryside would have teemed with such Country Matters.
  • Tragic Dream: Brown dreams of being a great poet, like his friend Keats. Keats dreams not only of being great poet — not realizing her already is one — but also a critically and financially successful one. (Financial and especially critical success would come in time; alas, not before his death.) In addition, Keats dreams of marrying Brawne, but he has no money and few prospects.
  • TV Genius: A rare Bio Pic about a towering genius that somehow manages to avert this trope. It may help that we view him chiefly through Brawne's eyes, and she admits she doesn't know much about poetry. It almost definitely helps, in averting the more egregious TV Genius tropes, that Keats is portrayed as a forgetful, distracted Shrinking Violet / The Quiet One — whether or not that's a realistic assessment — rather than a plentiful fount of wit like his friend Brown.