It’s hard to imagine but it’s been 16 years since Jane Campion delivered her masterpiece, “The Piano,” to the movie world. Nominated for eight Oscars it won three including a screenwriting statue for Campion, best actress recognition for Holly Hunter and 10-year-old Anna Paquin’s shocking win for best supporting actress (a recognition she’s more than deserved as any fan of “True Blood” will tell you).
In the intervening years though, Campion seemed to lose her way. “The Portrait of a Lady” was received coldly, “Holy Smoke” was seen as something of a lark and “In the Cut”? Well, that disaster is better left unspoken. However, it has been six years since her last narrative film and many thought Campion’s better days were behind her. After “Bright Star” debuted at the Cannes Film Festival this past May, that hardly seems the case.
The story of the love affair between Britain’s great poet John Keats (Ben Winshaw) and Franny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), “Star” was one of this year’s Cannes entries to not split the world press. Almost universally admired, the romance was called “an exquisite piece of filmmaking” by the Daily Telegraph and Allan Hunter of Screen International predicted it would “be warmly embraced as a prestige item with awards potential.” And the key word here appears to be “potential.” Both Winshaw and Cornish earned praise for their performances, but have hurdles to overcome in the acting categories unless the film truly flies stateside. On the other hand, as the trailer attests, little known Aussie cinematographer Greig Fraser has filmed some gorgeous scenes and costume and production designer Janet Patterson is a three-time Oscar nominee who once again seems in her element in the Victorian age.
The questions are, however, whether the film can strike a chord with Academy members (and U.S. critics for that matter) as the only true period piece in the game, if Winshaw’s physically demanding performance can breakthrough more established competition and, more importantly than you would think, if Cornish can be forgiven for being the “other woman” in the messy Ryan Phillipe/Reese Witherspoon divorce.
Look for more contender preview pieces all through the month of August, but in the meantime, check out the trailer here or embedded above and the film’s arresting poster and share your thoughts on “Bright Star” below.