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Home Visions Bright Star, the story of Keats and Fanny

Bright Star, the story of Keats and Fanny

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Bright Star

Among the movies in competition at the Cannes Film Festival there is also Bright Star of Jane Campion, the director already Palme d'Or for The Piano in 1993 and again this year among the potential winners. The film tells the tragic love story of poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Now one of the most famous poets in the English language Keats, however, was only rediscovered by the late Romanticism. In life, even if he managed to publish his works, he never became famous and rich, and, indeed, his poems were tore to pieces by the critics.

Keats, in the film played by Ben Whishaw, met Fanny, played by Abbie Cornish, at house of friend Charles Brown in 1818 and soon fell though in love with her. She was 18 years, he was 23 but he had already lost his mother to tuberculosis, his brother Tom would die soon and he was beginning to show signs of the disease. 

The film uses the letters the poet wrote to her to build the story, letters that became public only after Fanny's death. 
Keats had abandoned medical studies to pursue his passion for poetry, but he was very far from being able to live with his art, and the mother of Fanny felt he wasn't a good party for her daughter, who had many others courtiers, the reason why even Keats' friends didn't like the relationship. But despite his difficult situation Keats was cheerful and full of life, and with time even Fanny fell in love with the poet. The two were engaged, but their moment of happiness was very brief. In February 1820 an evening Keats came home with a fever and coughed arterial blood, a clear sign of the beginning of the final stages of tuberculosis. "This drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die" he said calmly to his friend Brown. Shortly afterwards, without hope for a cure, he wrote to Fanny to advise her to break the engagement, but she refused and he definitely could not hide his relief. With the continuing deterioration in health Keats was accepted by Fanny's mother and spent three months in her house. 
His last book finally had a moderate success and marriage seemed possible, but doctors and friends insisted that he went to Italy, hoping that the better climate would have healed him. The exact nature of tubercolosis was unknown but it's possible that Keats knew of being condemned, having seen his mother and his brother die. Perhaps he really hoped that the trip would heal him, or perhaps simply he didn't want that Fanny saw him die as had happened to him with his family. She gave him paper to write and an oval marble, which was used to cool the fever. 
He left with his friend the painter John Severn, but after a long quarantine in the port of Naples when he arrived in Rome in an apartment near the Spanish Steps, his conditions were very severe. Some days before he wrote to friend Charles Brown: "I am afraid to write to her - to receive a letter from her - to see her hand writing would break my heart - even to hear of her any how, to see her name written would be more than I could bear." Even if always kept in his hands the oval marble, Keats didn't write to her once, refused to read her letters and just asked Severn to place them in his tomb with a lock of her hair. 
He died in Rome in February 1821, at 25 years, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery. On his tomb was engraved, according to his will "here lies one whose name was writ in water." Letters that Fanny wrote after his death to Keats's sister show that she remained in love of him for a long time. Only after about 9 years after the death of the poet she married and later had three children, and one of them after her death in 1865 sold the letters of the poet, that she had always kept secret to her husband. 
The title of the film comes from one of the Keats' poems, long regarded by friends the last one but probably written in the period when he was with Fanny in 1819.

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

The movie page with production journal

Francesco Defferrari


Last Updated on Sunday, 28 February 2010 18:51  
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