Directed by Jane Campion (her Oscar-winner is The Piano), the film is set in London 1818. The secret love affair begins between the 23 year-old English poet (played by Ben Whishaw) and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), who ia a student of high fashion. This unlikely pair begin at odds, he thinking her a stylish minx, while she was unimpressed not only by his poetry but also by literature in general.
When Fanny's mother and Keats' best friend discover the affair and feel it is dangerous to their futures. Helplessly absorbed in each other, Keats wrote to her in a letter "I have the feeling as if we're dissolving."
Keats wrote the poem "Bright Star" in 1819 and revised it in 1820, perhaps on his final voyage to Italy. Friends and his doctor had urged him to try a common treatment for tuberculosis, a trip to Italy; however, Keats was aware that he was dying.
Many critics feel that the English (AKA Shakespearean) sonnet was addressed to Fanny Brawne with evidence including one of Keats's love letters to Brawne which says "I will imagine you Venus tonight and pray, pray, pray to your star like a Heathen. Your's ever, fair Star."
Other poems by Keats were more obviously written to Fanny, such as "The day is gone..." and "I cry your mercy..." which are similar in form to "Bright Star."
BRIGHT STAR, WOULD I WERE STEDFAST
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,
Pillowed 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 in death.
By John Keats
The poem opens with the poet's desire to be as steadfast as a star. Of course, that an impossibility and he realizes by the end of the poem. Criticism on the poem talks about the "for ever" or "ever" emphasis, time and eternity.
What remains is the possibility of steadfastness in terms of human life and love and movement.
The desire for permanence, timelessness and the eternity of a star in a world bound by time and constantly in flux appears in other Keats poems.
The poet accepts the possibility of dying from pleasure. "Swoon" has sexual overtones. (An orgasm is often compared to a dying - the French term for orgasm is le petit morte, or the small death.)
Some of the Keats poems that are excerpted in the film include Endymion, "When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be," "The Eve of St. Agnes, section XXIII, [Out went the taper as she hurried in]," "Ode to a Nightingale," "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," and the title poem, "Bright Star."
Campion credits Andrew Motion's Keats: A Biography as an inspiration for the film's approach to their love.
See a review of the film at the Academy of American Poets site.