Tuesday, 12 January 2010
Written on a blank page in Shakespeare's Poems, facing 'A Lover's Complaint'
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art-
not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
and watching, with eternal lids apart,
like nature's patient, sleepless eremite,
the moving waters at their priestlike task
of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
of snow upon the mountains and the moors-
No - yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
to feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
and so live ever - or else swoon to death.
* * *
I have finally seen Jane Campion's Bright Star after generously receiving free tickets from Penguin. Let me say, I have seen many, many, many films in the past few years, most of which have been period films, and I have never been so moved, so intimately stirred by any film like this one.
I wish I could articulate to you in words why I find this film so different, so entirely separate from other period films, from other love stories, from other interpretations of an author's life. There are many things that appeal about this film, and it is visually very beautiful, but many period films are beautiful. No, that's not it. That's too easy, too facile.
I think the answer might well lie with the imagery that is still so provocatively present in my mind, a few hours after viewing the film. It's sewing. A simple, mundane and entirely feminine domestic chore, which the film is full of. Fanny sews a lot, Fanny pauses a lot, as does Keats. This is all done in real time. If there is a lull in their conversation, it is silent. If Keats is busy writing, Fanny watches with her needle in the corner. If Keats is sick, Fanny curls on the bed next to him as they try to feel the substantial weight of bodies through finely-sewn clothing.
Sewing has a significant metaphorical meaning in many nineteenth-century novels, and I don't think Campion is unaware of this. The needle going into pure white cloth is highly symbolic for a couple who never actually act out their desire. I have never sat through a movie that is so sensual in which the only the physical contact is kissing.
Perhaps another reason why I loved this film beyond reason is because I could see Keats and Fanny in Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw. I believed them so much. I believed Fanny when she couldn't breath (if you haven't seen the film, I won't ruin it for you) and I believed Keats when he smiled at her across the room. There was nothing sentimental, simple, dramatic, or grand about this. It is more insular that that.
Does it sound like I'm rambling? I am, I know. I feel I have so much to say about this film, but the words escape me.