I love John Keats just as much as the next English major, but I'm sorry- I don't think there was enough here to justify making a film. Yes, he was a great poet, but he did not do anything in his life personally that would warrant a movie. Yes, he had a love affair, but it wasn't that great. It actually turns out to be one of the most boring love affairs I've ever seen on screen.
Ben Whishaw plays John Keats who lives with his friend, Charles Brown, in Hampstead Village, near London, 1818. The two collaborate on poetry and plays.
With smitten curiosity, Abbie Cornish, who reminds me of a young Nicole Kidman, plays Fanny Brawne, Keats' love interest. She lives next door and always finds reasons to visit. Charles doesn't like her interruptions. He sees them as distractions and tries to run interference, but of course to no avail.
In one poem, Keats compares Brawne to a bright star. He calls her absorbing and dissolving. Yet, I didn't feel that. Keats gives Brawne, the naive seamstress, poetry lessons. During which, he tells her poetry is "experience without thought" and that it's like diving into a lake, not to swim to shore but merely to be in the water.
Oscar-winning director Jane Campion gives us other moments when the charming Keats delivers very poetic lines like that. Campion combines them with beautiful visuals like the two lying within a field of tall grasses or having Brawne with a swarm of butterflies in her room.
Unfortunately, if their love is supposed to be a bright star, it falls short as there is no real heat or intensity here. It all amounts to one large flirtation. Keats and Brawne hug. They peck at each other, not really kissing. They hold hands, and that's it, no sex. I didn't see any signs of passion.
I'm not saying they needed to have sex for the movie to work. Based on Andrew Motion's biography, in real life, the two might not have consummated their relationship. The actors are able enough, but I really wanted to feel that bright star love and I just didn't.
Besides the fact that he was having financial troubles, we also don't delve too deeply into the life of Keats. Like with his brother, Keats' illness isn't given due diligence. Both Keats and his brother are quickly disposed, so I didn't have enough to really feel his loss.
This film depicts the last three years of Keats' life. Keats died of tuberculosis. His writings were highly criticized during his life. He believed himself a failure, but now he's considered one of the greatest Romantic poets in the history of literature.
However, as odd as it sounds, I was more interested in Paul Schneider's character of Charles Brown. That character held more fascination, more intrigue, more heat than Keats. I would have preferred a film around Charles Brown instead.
Two Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for brief language and incidental smoking
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.