The star in "Bright Star" is Fannie Brawne, the love of Romantic poet John Keats's (1795-1821) life. On the screen, it is Australian actress Abbie Cornish, whose luminous, heart-breaking performance as Fannie makes her the star of this lovely, lyrical, poignant movie.
Keats died of tuberculosis when he was only 26. You can sense the tragedy developing frame by frame between the poet and his muse as the lovers desperately try to overcome poverty and prejudice to consummate their love. But it is not to be, and as played by Cornish's Fannie, far more than British actor Ben Whishaw's Keats, the pathos is almost unbearable throughout the movie.
Fannie is a self-assured seamstress but to win Keats's love, she attempts to learn the finer points of poetry from the young master himself. In one of the lessons, she tells Keats that she is going to "work" the poems, no matter how long it takes. An exasperated Keats exclaims: You don't dive into a lake to reach the other shore. You dive in to feel the sensation of body meeting water, to feel only the presence of the water. You don't work the lake!"
Keats could not make money with his poems to support himself, which was why he could not marry Fannie, and died in distant Rome away from his beloved, convinced that he was a failure. Time has redeemed him and many of his poems are considered among the finest ever written in the English language. Fannie lived with her beloved's memory for the rest of her life. In the very last and long scene, she is seen taking a walk in the snowy woods, reciting the lines of "Bright Star."
Each line of the poem evokes a distinct expression on her face, sorrow and longing combining to convey how love can conquer time and space. As she recites the last lines of the poem, "Pillowed 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 swoon to death," we become believers in timeless love ourselves.