It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and is director Jane Campion's first film after her disastrous last one.
And what a bore it is.
I love English period dramas as much as the general population this side of the world detest it – i.e. a lot. I like the archaic settings, the archaic sentence structure and elaborate phrasal choices, the strictures and conventions that these people live by that no longer apply today. I find them fascinating, and so far, rarely is there a period drama film that disappoints me.
This one achieves a numbing level of dullness, and I'm not entirely sure I know why. Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw deliver competent performances of two young people who begin to fall in love with each other and, because of their emotionally-naïve temperament compounded by the fact that the boy is the poet John Keats (and a Romantic at that), fall far more deeply in love than most people would allow themselves to be (the word intoxicated comes to mind), to the point that they push everything else in their life out of the bubble they create for themselves ... or try anyway. Which sounds like it should be a romantically-affecting, dramatic film. But it's not.
As for direction ... what direction? Anyone could've directed this one. This film couldn't be plainer if it tried.
The story is meandering, though there is one scene where John Keats mentors the girl about poetry and what's it about that's quite insightful (as it should be). There are quite a number of scenes of characters spouting poetry, and they just don't sell the delivery well at all.
I read an article where Cornish was saying how one of the themes of the movie was that they had to fall in love in a very chaste manner (no showing of feelings, no touching, etc), which is of course something that's really unsatisfying for the characters, and we in the audience are meant to feel it. Guess what, Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice relayed that to the audience far more effectively than anything I saw here.
And just watch the trailer – all of the movie could not compete with the passion demonstrated in just that last minute of the music in the trailer.
The one surprise is seeing American actor Paul Schneider here, portraying Keats' Scottish friend Charles A. Brown. His Scottish delivery sounded really good and he comes across without any shred of the American in him (few American actors cross over the English period drama movies perfectly), though it's unfortunate his character is rather a pain in the arse, an irritating sort of fellow. Also, it was nice to see young actor Thomas Sangster growing up (he famously played Liam Neeson's precocious son in Love Actually).
Give it a miss, unless you're one of those that are convinced that Jane Campion is a genius.
Did I Like It? Very much not.
Did I Fall Asleep? About 15 minutes.