October 15, 2009
Real sorrow is very hard to pull off on stage or screen. I often think that if you want audiences to feel the weight of a character's woes as a screen or playwright, you're usually better off getting them to do something funny, rather than give them a crying scene. It's just really hard to act sadness convincingly. Even if we can see that a character is deeply upset about something, it's a rare actor who can make us actually feel their pain.
Abbie Cornish, the young British actress who plays Fanny Brawne in Bright Star, Jane Campion's new movie about the relationship between Fanny and the Romantic poet John Keats, somehow manages to take the audience to this place of absolute, gut-wrenching empathy. Despite positive reviews in the mainstream media, I found the film to be rambling and pretentious in general. But the one scene in which Fanny collapses at the news of her lover John's death made me sink so deeply into my seat that I thought I was descending into a premature grave myself.
Cornish doesn't simply sob and get a little moist around the eyes. What she does is not in the least bit pretty. Cornish convulses with uncontrolled grief. The noises and bodily fluids coming from the actress' mouth and nose are not the sort of thing starlets typically allow. She snorts and snots and dribbles and hyperventilates.
This might all sound over the top as I describe it in cold black and white text. But, believe me, this sadness is as real as I have ever felt someone else's trauma to be. In that moment, I understood how it could be that a person could love someone so completely unsuitable, and continue to wear his ring and walk the heath in remembrance of his name long after his deat