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Campion brings Keats love story to Cannes

 Director Jane Campion (L) poses with cast members Abbie Cornish (C) and Ben Wishaw during a photocall for the film
Director Jane Campion (L) poses with cast members Abbie Cornish (C) and Ben Wishaw during a photocall for the film 'Bright Star' at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival May 15, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
— image credit: Reuters

By James Mackenzie

CANNES, France (Reuters) - Jane Campion's latest film, on show at Cannes, portrays the passionate affair between the Romantic poet John Keats and his teenaged love Fanny Brawne but is not a biopic, the New Zealand-born director said.

"Bright Star" brings Campion, 55, back to the film festival where she made her name in 1993 with "The Piano," another 19th century romance that won her both the Palme d'Or award for best film and an Oscar in the same year.

Saying she felt "very excited and fearful" at returning to Cannes, where she is still the only woman ever to have won the main competition prize, Campion said she had striven to avoid the cliches that can rob many period films of life.

The film includes the lush and colorful imagery that marked Campion's earlier films and natural performances from the cast including the two leads, Australian actor Abbie Cornish as Fanny and Britain's Ben Whishaw as Keats.

"What was important was to tell a very intimate story and to make nothing of the fact that it was a period film," she told a press conference after the film's warmly received first screening Friday.

"This is not a biopic. It's a story inspired by their story told from Fanny's point of view. It's a love story."

Keats was struggling to establish himself as a poet when he met Fanny Brawne in 1818. The acquaintance deepened when he moved next door to her family in the London village of Hampstead the following year and the pair fell passionately in love.

In the few years they spent before his death at the age of 25, Keats wrote some of his greatest poetry including "Ode to a Grecian Urn" and "Ode to a Nightingale" as well as love letters that Campion drew on heavily for the film.

VIVACITY

Campion said she had adored Keats's poetry but was equally enchanted with the figure of Fanny Brawne, a teen-ager more interested in sewing and clothes than poetry when the pair first met and whom Keats at first described as a "minx."

"I fell in love with Fanny as much as I did with Keats," Campion said but added that she had been "terrified" of putting a voice to a spirited and lively young woman whose own letters to Keats were burned by the poet.

"She was famous for her 'bons mots', she was very witty and I'm not witty," said Campion, who said she drew inspiration from the vivacity of her own 13 year-old daughter Alice in creating the character.

Built around small intimate scenes involving the two lovers and Fanny's family, the film seeks to avoid the kind of stiff, crinoline-draped scenes familiar from countless period films.

"I remember Jane always saying 'everydayness is enough," Whishaw said.

The landscape of Hampstead Heath, a vast area of wild parkland north of London, where the two lived, provides the backdrop to the film, reflecting the changing seasons over the two years they spent together.

Due to practical constraints, the film was not shot in Keats's own house, but the natural world is a constant feature providing striking images of flowers and meadows that underpin the burgeoning love story.

"God was with us," Campion said of the shooting. "The house we found had a big paddock in front of it and we had no idea it was a daffodil field," she said.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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