In the opening moments of Bright Star we see the hands of Fanny Brawe (Abbie Cornish) capably sewing something very complex and very beige. The texture of the cloth, the push of the needle through the fabric, the effort of making so many fine stitches is made perfectly clear, even as we simultaneously admire the less workmanlike aspects of the shot—the light on the cloth, the balletic movements of hands. The last film I remember dramatizing craft so well, and in the first shot too, was Coraline. What is it about sewing and enchantment and girls? The two films couldn’t be less alike, and yet, it is sewing that gets girls both in and out of trouble. Fanny is trying to sew herself into something, that thrust of the needle is a creative force, but at first succeeds better in attracting attention than respect.
I loved Jane Campion’s film, despite my feeling that it might not be true, and it must surely be anachronistic. What’s better than doomed love, particularly when he is so much more fragile than she? In truth, I could have had less poetry and more sewing.
Bright Star’s legacy for lovers of costume drama like me is to make the costumes part of the drama. From the first view of Fanny and her family progressing through the field, everyone else in muslin, Fanny in pink, it is as if all those tuckers in Jane Austen have finally and violently been colored in. What is fussy backdrop at the BBC (only relevant to the action in that one chilling scene in P&P, when Lizzie’s petticoat is quite six inches deep in mud) becomes a character. We get over the unflattering nature of the fashions of 1817. We see how a creative person might work within the limits of skirt length and puffed sleeves to not look like every other maiden. We see how a creative person might have to do so, given no other canvas. We almost envy her the yards of fabric to work with, so impoverished are we in our skinny jeans and t-shirts. I felt as if I hadn’t ever seen rose in that way.