Last night, PJ and I went out to see Jane Campion‘s new movie, Bright Star, which depicts the love story between the English poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. PJ is an admirer of her work, especially The Piano, and we’ve heard lots of Oscar buzz for this film, so we were really looking forward to seeing it. We both really liked it.

Here’s the trailer:

English professors like me and PJ know of Brawne solely as the woman Keats loved but couldn’t marry. Practically penniless, Keats couldn’t afford to marry, and within a year of their meeting in 1818 Keats began to show the early signs of tuberculosis. The entire length of their romance was less than two years, and much of it was conducted by correspondence.

The fact that few facts about their relationship are known beyond the existing letters written from Keats to Brawne (he had her letters burned at his death) poses a huge problem for the filmmaker who wants to tell their story. The temptation would be to completely fictionalize the story, veering into either melodrama or romantic comedy.

What I like most about Campion’s take on this story is that she has clearly avoided the pitfalls of modern romantic films, choosing instead to work toward cinematic realism. While there are lyrical elements to her film, she attempts to present this love story as quietly and simply as possible. She includes many of the elements contained in the letters and contemporary accounts, but she never speaks down to the audience. She shows us these characters and their story without wasting a lot of time on exposition. In doing so, she creates a very affective story, which, if not completely historically accurate, creates a pair of lovers that are believable and enthralling to watch.