It was a negative review that I didn't get around to reading until after Jane Campion's film had left the local art house that finally interested me in seeing her tale of the romance of John Keats and Fanny Brawne. The review appeared in The New York Review of Books, and was written by Christopher Ricks, a critic and Keats scholar. The full review is only available for subscribers, but the excerpt available for free will give you idea enough of Ricks's beef with Campion. To sum up, Campion's offense, in Ricks's view, was to wander into the old debate between the critics and the biographers. It's kind of a one-sided war. The biographers do their thing, which is to inquire into the influence of life on art, and certain critics attack them. These critics accuse the biographers of going overboard, as if they meant to prove that every word written by an author could be traced to an episode from his life. That approach, to the extent that anyone employs it, supposedly denigrates the author's power of creation and, more importantly, imagination. Ricks feels that Bright Star compounds the biographic fallacy by illustrating Keats' inspirations in so literal-minded a fashion that the movie might undermine the poetry's potential to evoke sympathetic imagery in another reader's mind.
Ricks's diatribe got me interested in seeing Bright Star because it left me wondering whether Campion intended anything like what Ricks accused her of doing. I can't say I'm a Campion fan; her only films that I'd seen before this were The Piano and Holy Smoke! That selection should tell you that I approached those films as a Harvey Keitel fan first. I did like both of them, though, and I don't mind the occasional 19th century period piece or biopic, so once a copy of the new film turned up on the New Arrivals shelf at the library, and especially after some bloggers have touted it as among the best films of last year and the decade, I grabbed it.
Bright Star is also one of those films where you'll want to stay through the closing credits. That's because you'll hear Whishaw reading some nice lines from Keats as the credits roll. These lyrics aren't illustrated in any way that could offend Christopher Ricks or any other critic, nor does the film as a whole brainwash you into any interpretation of Keats's work. Ricks's concern over how the movie would influence future readers of Keats made him overlook the obvious. Bright Star isn't a work of criticism or interpretation; it's a work of art in its own right.