Bright Star

September 16, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

In the sensual and womanly-wise period drama Bright Star, Abbie Cornish looks at once demure and succulent in astonishing peony-colored garments as Fanny Brawne, while Ben Whishaw, in a teal waistcoat, is a vision of 19th-century emo tubercular hotness as the great Romantic poet John Keats. In life, Brawne was the girl next door who loved Keats deeply; the two were engaged when the poet died in Italy, coughing blood, at the age of 25. Today Brawne is remembered mostly as the recipient of passionate Keatsian love letters. (His poem ”Bright Star” was dedicated to her.)

But in Jane Campion’s quiet, luscious, stately meditation, an empathetic identification with Brawne’s view of the world is tied to the filmmaker’s thematic interest in young love (especially seen from a girl’s point of view), the creative process, and the meaning of poetry. Brawne, a talented seamstress who found artistic expression in designing her own clothes, may have lived in an age of restrictive garments and equally restrictive rules of feminine conduct. But Campion’s big-sisterly encouragement of Cornish’s lovely, openhearted performance — and Whishaw’s well-matched response — results in a character instantly, intimately recognizable to anyone remembering her own first love. A-

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Bright Star

119 minutes
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Bright Star

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