Last night, I re-watched the film Bright Star, which focuses on the life of John Keats, especially his love affair with Fanny Brawne and his untimely death at a young age. This is one of the few biopics about a poet I really like. First and foremost, the acting is superb, especially Ben Whishaw as Keats and Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne. The passion of their love affair is captured best in the film not only through the acting, but also through the use of some of the letters Keats wrote to Brawne while he was away in various parts of Europe writing and trying to earn some income. Some of his letters had as much beauty and poetic images as some of his best poems. Here’s one of the lines used in the film: “I almost wish we were butterflies and I lived but three summer days. Three summer days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could contain.”
For those not familiar with Keats or some of his poetic theories, seeing the film is a nice introduction to some of his key thoughts and his life. For instance, Keats’ theory of negative capability is addressed in the film, the idea that not everything can be resolved and that truths found in the imagination access holy authority and that there is a “holiness to the heart’s affections,” too, a phrase directly quoted in the film.
Some of his other theories are addressed briefly in the film, including his belief that one should immerse himself in poetry through the senses, that feeling is what matters most, and that if poetry “does not come as naturally as leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.”
If you haven’t seen Bright Star and if you aren’t familiar with Keats’ work, it’s a good introduction to his life and some of his theories, theories that played a key role in the English Romantic poetic movement. His theories and work are also paramount because the Modernist poets in the 20th Century acted against them through their own work and essays.