The lasting impact of first love is the subject of Jane Campion's Bright Star, a Palme d'or-nominated film that is at once about, and not merely about, the brilliance of the Romantic poet John Keats. Tossing the usual biopic formula, Campion opts not to retell Keats' entire life, focusing instead on the brief lifespan of his romantic courtship with a young woman named Fanny Brawne in 19th century London -- a relationship that, Campion argues, awakened love in Keats, and in turn, inspired his genius.
As such, what unfolds is less a by-the-numbers examination of the artist, who died a pauper at the age of 25 before any of his poetry was truly appreciated, and more a tribute to the power of the well-documented love that Keats and Brawne shared, partly through letters.
When they first meet, Keats (played marvelously by British actor Ben Whishaw) is a struggling poet with no money to his name. He has a sick and dying brother and no marriage prospects, but he's beloved among a circle of London artist types who look out for him here and there, including fellow poet Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider). Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), on the other hand, is the eldest daughter of the family next door. A fashionista of sorts, Fanny spends her days sewing and designing her own clothes, and has no interest in things like poetry – that is, until she becomes fascinated with Keats.