Bright Star, Muse to Amuse Keats

DATELINE: Campion as Keats Champion

Whishaw as Keats Ill-tailored poet.

Ben Whishaw is John Keats in this sumptuous movie by Jane Campion. If you want a sense of what living in 1818 was like, this film will provide it—from drafty houses to ill-fitting clothes.

Director Jane Campion ended her feature-length movie association with this effort called Bright Star. She felt there was no room in movie universe nowadays for real literary films with the domination of cartoon heroes stealing all box-office receipts.

Keats is a Romantic poet, but that does not mean he should be presented as a Hallmark cable channel character. Romance is a 19th century philosophy, not a sentimental love story.

Campion illustrates the quaint conceits of another era when bohemian poets hit the wall of standard social norms.

This is a costume drama where the costumes are shabby because there really was no haute fashion when poet John Keats was putting ink to paper—with grubby ink-stained fingers.

Though Abbie Cornish is delightful as the “bright star,” in Keats’ life, she is maddeningly and alternately feminist and fading flower. It makes the movie almost guaranteed to please nobody. This film likely impressed Madonna enough to give Cornish the lead in her film of the romance of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in W./E. the following year.

Campion, as director, is an artist true to herself, like Keats, and she walks a fine line with her saucy seamstress as muse.

After playing Sebastian in Brideshead, Ben Whishaw had cornered the market on sensitive/effete men for a few years, and his Keats may be poetic, but we don’t have a sense of his “consumptive” doom within a few years. It may be a shock to those who don’t know the biographic facts. Marriage is not within his power because of debt, not illness.

This may seem a frivolous love story on some levels, but director Campion has eschewed directing films ever since—to our great detriment as followers of intelligent character study.

 

 

 

 

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Madonna & W./E. Against Us!

DATELINE: Material Girl Directs!

Andrea Riseborough Andrea Riseborough as Duchess of Windsor!

If you are looking for Madonna in her 2011 movie W./E., you won’t see her. She was behind the camera, directing it.

The film is everything you might expect—and is also totally unexpected. It may seem like Downton Abbey in Material Girl terms, but it is really a solid case of Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam meeting Henry James and The Aspern Papers.

Two women named Wallis, 70 years apart, have what appears to be a paranormal encounter.  They are unsympathetic protagonists, but what the world hates, Madonna loves.

Back in 2011, the movie was widely castigated by critics as an overreach and under-achievement. Those tuning in to see the iconic woman will see only her stand-ins: the two Wallys.

Now with a few years passed, we can see W./E. as something far more interesting and poorly judged by audiences and the anti-Madonna contingent. The film is beautifully constructed and under-appreciated.

A modern 1998 woman is obsessed with Wallis Simpson and her husband, the one-time King of England.

Here the legendary singer stretched her wings to make a film about a woman researching the legendary love affair of the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Wallis advises her modern counterpart, as both women are rapacious and obsessive.

Madonna seems intent on showing the Duchess of Windsor sacrificed far more than her husband.

In Madonna’s hands, this tale becomes a curious parallel to the Henry James story called The Aspern Papers. The conceit is that Wallis Simpson has left some letters that explain the affair in more comprehensive terms of the 21st century. It seems the King may not have given up the throne for the woman he loved exactly as advertised. He made his wife a glamorous prisoner.

Madonna’s modern woman is flawed greatly, intense and refusing to be denied: much like the Duchess of Windsor and the Madonna of music.

Intriguing Abbie Cornish is the modern Wally, and Andrea Riseborough is the brilliant version of the Duchess Wally. This is a fascinating film on many levels. You need to re-discover it.