Bright Star is a 2009 film based on the last three years of the life of poet John Keats and his romantic relationship with Fanny Brawne. It stars Ben Whishaw as Keats and Abbie Cornish as Fanny. A British/Australian co-production, it was directed by Jane Campion, who wrote the screenplay and was inspired by the biography of Keats by Andrew Motion, who served as a script consultant on the film.[1][2] The film competed in the main competition at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, and was first shown to the public on 15 May 2009.[3] The film's title is a reference to a sonnet by Keats named "Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art", which he wrote while he was with Brawne.


 [hide*1 Plot


In 1818 Hampstead, the fashionable Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) is introduced to poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) through the Dilke family. The Dilkes occupy one half of a double house, with Charles Brown (Paul Schneider)—Keats' friend, roommate, and associate in writing—occupying the other side.

Though Fanny's flirtatious personality contrasts with Keats' notably more aloof nature, she begins to pursue him after she has her siblings, Samuel and Toots, obtain his book of poetry "Endymion". Despite her efforts to interact with the poet it is only after witnessing her grief for the loss of his brother Tom that Keats begins to open up to Fanny's advances, when he spends Christmas with the Brawne family. After Keats begins to give poetry lessons to Fanny it becomes apparent that their attraction is mutual, however Fanny is nevertheless troubled in regard to Keats' reluctance to pursue her, for which her mother (Kerry Fox) surmises, "Mr Keats knows he cannot like you, he has no living and no income."

It is only after Fanny receives a valentine from Brown that Keats passionately confronts them and wonders if they are lovers. Brown, who sent the valentine in jest, warns Keats of Fanny, claiming that she is a mere flirt playing a game. On the other hand, Fanny, hurt by the accusations and Keats' lack of faith in her, ends their lessons and leaves. It is not until after the Dilkes move to Westminster that spring, leaving the Brawne family six months half rent in their home neighboring Brown, that Fanny and Keats resume their interaction and fall deeply in love. The relationship comes to an abrupt end, however, after Brown leaves for his summer rental with Keats, so that Keats may earn some money. Though Fanny is heartbroken, she is comforted by Keats' love letters. When the men return in the autumn, Fanny's mother shows concern, feeling that Fanny's attachment with the poet will hinder her from being courted. Secretly, however, Fanny and Keats are engaged.

When Keats becomes ill the following winter, he spends several weeks recovering until spring, for which his friends begin a collection of funds so that he may spend the next winter in Italy where the climate is warmer. After impregnating the maid Abigail, however, Brown is unable to accompany him. Though Keats manages to find residence in London for the summer, he is taken in to live with the Brawne family following an incident in relation to his illness. It is here that, after his book sells with moderate success, Fanny's mother gives Keats her blessing to marry Fanny once he returns from Italy. The night before Keats must leave for Italy he and Fanny say their tearful goodbye in privacy, and in February—while still in Italy—Keats dies of complications from tuberculosis, just as his brother Tom did earlier in the film.

In the last moments of the film Fanny cuts her hair in an act of mourning, dons black attire, and walks the snowy paths outside that Keats had walked many times in life. It is there that she recites the love sonnet he had written for her, "Bright Star", as she grieves the death of her lover.


  • Ben Whishaw as John Keats.
    Keats was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death. During his lifetime his poems were not generally well received by critics and at age 25 he died believing he was a failure. However, his reputation grew and he held significant posthumous influence on many later poets.
  • Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne.
    Like the real life Fanny Brawne, Fanny in the film is a fiery and fashionable eighteen-year-old who spends her time creating dresses, hats, and various other garments. She is also something of a flirt and enjoys going to balls, inspiring jealousy in Keats. Though the real life Fanny Brawne went on to marry and have children, she never parted with Keats' love letters.
  • Paul Schneider as Charles Armitage Brown, Keats' best friend.
  • Kerry Fox as Fanny's mother, a widow.
  • Thomas Sangster as Samuel Brawne, Fanny's brother.
  • Antonia Campbell-Hughes as Abigail O'Donaghue Brown, housemaid and mother of Charles Brown's child.
  • Claudie Blakley as Mrs Dilke
  • Jonathan Aris as Leigh Hunt
  • Samuel Barnett as Joseph Severn


In addition to "Bright Star" several other poems are recited in the film, including "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" and "Ode to a Nightingale". Both Campion and Whishaw completed extensive research in preparation for the film. Many of the lines in the script are taken directly from Keats' letters.[4] Whishaw, as well, learned how to write with a quill and ink during filming. The letters that Fanny Brawne receives from Keats in the film were actually written by Whishaw in his own hand.

Janet Patterson, who has worked with Campion for over 20 years, served as both costume designer and production designer for the film.[5]

The Hyde House and Estate in Hyde, Bedfordshire, substituted for the Keats House in Hampstead. Campion decided that the Keats House (also known as Wentworth Place) was too small and "a little bit fusty".[6] Some filming also took place at Elstree Studios.[7]

Critical reception[edit]Edit

The film garnered positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 82% out of 153 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 7.2 and the site consensus being: "Jane Campion's direction is as refined as her screenplay, and she gets the most out of her cast – especially Abbie Cornish – in this understated period drama."[8] Mary Colbert of SBS awarded the film five stars out of five, commenting that "If Campion intended to inspire an appreciation and rediscovery of Keats' poetry, she has not only succeeded but herself created an artistic monument to his life, love, poetry and soul." Craig Mathieson, in the same review, hailed Bright Star as "Jane Campion’s ... best work since The Piano, her epochal 1993 masterpiece." [9]

Box office[edit]Edit

Bright Star grossed $3,110,560 at the box office in Australia.[10]





Lakeshore Records released the soundtrack for Bright Star digitally (iTunes and Amazon Digital) on 15 September 2009 and in stores on 13 October 2009. The film's soundtrack features original music by Mark Bradshaw with dialogue from the film voiced by Cornish and Whishaw.[11][12]

Track listing[edit]Edit

  1. "Negative Capability" – 3:55
  2. "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" – 2:28
  3. "Return" – 0:58
  4. "Human Orchestra" – 1:48
  5. "Convulsion" – 0:52
  6. "Bright Star" – 1:49
  7. "Letters" – 3:49
  8. "Yearning" – 2:24
  9. "Ode to a Nightingale" – 5:24

Book of Love Letters and Poems[edit]Edit

A collection of Keats's love letters and selected poems, titled Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne, was published in 2009 as a companion to the motion picture. The 144-page book was published byPenguin and includes an introduction written by Campion.[13] The content of the book is as follows:

Letters from John Keats to Fanny Brawne[edit]Edit

  • I-IX: Shanklin, Winchester, Westminister
  • X-XXXII: Wentworth Place
  • XXXIII-XXXVII: Kentish Town – Preparing For Italy


  • 'Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art'
  • The Eve of St Agnes
  • A Dream, after reading Dante's Episode of Paola and Francesca
  • La Belle Dame sans Merci. A Ballad
  • Ode to Psyche
  • Ode on Melancholy
  • Ode on Indolence
  • Lamia
  • 'The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone!'
  • What can I do to drive away
  • 'I cry your mercy, pity, love – ay, love!'
  • To Fanny
  • 'This living hand, now warm and capable'


  • Sketch of John Keats sleeping (28 January 1821) by Joseph Severn
  • Silhouette of Fanny Brawne, after Augustin Edouart
  • Facsimiles of Keats's handwriting, from his letters to Brawne
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