English-lit majors know that this story about the 19th-century Romantic poet isn't going to end well. But Jane Campion's account of his youthful love affair with Fanny Brawne is so sublimely seductive that Romantics and romantics alike may well hope it does. The forthright Fanny (Abbie Cornish) comes to know her neighbor, the struggling poet (Ben Wishaw). He is sensitive and kind (and has dreamy hair), and finds inspiration in Fanny's joie de vivre and (limited) independence. It would be easy to transpose these two into contemporary archetypes, young artistic souls who easily meld, though naturally, much of the drama here is rooted in mores of the past. (For instance, Fanny cannot marry the penniless Keats.)
This is a costumed parlor drama that nonetheless has an ethereal air about it: Is it the candlelight, the strolls in fields of flowers, or the genteel scenes of unspoken longing? Campion (The Piano) has long had a sure touch with this sort of emotionally charged, vaguely dreamlike material, and those who surrender to scenes depicting rooms of butterflies or lovers pressed silently to opposite sides of a shared wall should find Bright Star affecting. There's also plenty for the more prosaically romantic to enjoy, be it a nasty love-triangle with Keats' mentor-companion, Charles Brown (Paul Schneider); a courtship via billets-doux; and that old favorite, the untimely death that forever separates (or does it?) young lovers. Altogether, handsomely filmed, well acted and likely to have you revisiting Keats' works. Starts Fri., Oct. 2.