It’s been some time since a Fine Linen Film (FLF) has come across the screen. It’s a phrase I coined when watching Merchant Ivory films with my mom.
It doesn’t stand for any old piece in period costume, I mean a film with layers. Layers of good script, good acting, and last but not least, costume you can really sink your teeth into. For a while, Merchant Ivory was the only crew that really got it. Then Vanity Fair and a host of Jane Campion films came on to the scene. The lastest one I’ve seen: Bright Star.
Jane Campion has succeeded in making a hyper-physical movie about a Romantic poet whose body is failing him and a woman whose art consists in sewing elaborate garments to cover nearly every inch of the human form. That she has done so is testament to her intelligent filmmaking and to the consistency of her vision for Bright Star, the story of John Keats’ relationship with Fanny Brawne. Every aspect of the film—from its opening hyper-close-up of a needle piercing fabric, to the astounding performance of Abbie Cornish—works to convey the idea, or rather the feeling, of poetry. Campion has made a movie about poetry that unwinds Wordsworth’s famous definition. If poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, Campion takes us back through the poetry to the raw emotions that produced it. (read an interview with Campion here)
Those emotions find their superb voice in Cornish. There is nothing histrionic about her performance. In fact, she carries herself with a stillness that somehow manages to focus the viewer’s attention all the more on her physical presence. She has the ability of the best actors to register subtle shifts of feeling with tiny changes in expression. But more than that, she presents love, sadness, grief as physical sensations so palpable that we can’t help but share them. Since it’s common knowledge that Keats died at twenty-five, it isn’t spoiling the plot to refer to the scene in which Cornish’s Fanny learns of his death. This scene alone, which includes some lovely acting by Kerry Fox, would be enough to make Bright Star worth seeing.
For more of this review, see Henriette Power’s blog.
I enjoyed this set immensely. The film was shot on location in Bedfordshire, England and one day in Rome for the funeral scene. The main location was an estate in Luton called Hyde House. The natural gardens helped create the look of the heaths of Hampstead. The two houses on the property were stand-ins for the house Brown shared with the Brawnes, and the cottage, where the Brawnes originally lived. Hyde House was the first location that was scouted for the film’s setting. The woods, fields, daffodil fields, blue bell walks all inspired scenes and fabric choices.
Campion’s firmly physical invocation of time and place, realised by Greg Fraser’s interesting cinematography, emphasises a Georgian England of flapping laundry, singing birds, insect trills, mud, colour-bleached woods, and freeze-dried winter forests. Scenery is absorbed with simple yet intimate vividness, as the natural setting that defines the characters’ lives and that both helps feed Keats’ imagination and wastes away his body. Campion’s feel for physical context is one of the strongest in modern cinema, and the setting, a Hampstead village still not yet annexed by the city of London, seems nearly as exotic as the stormy shores of New Zealand in The Piano. For more review from Ferdy on Films, as well as the photo credits for this page, click here.