While you’re hunkered down staying healthy during this crisis, there’s plenty of great female directors you can get to know better while you quarantine! Jane Campion has spearheaded a number of projects for both film and TV, including the Oscar-winning The Piano and the Elisabeth Moss fronted Top of the Lake miniseries. She also wrote and directed Bright Star, a film about John Keats and his muse Fanny Brawne. FF2 Media CEO and Editor in Chief Jan Lisa Huttner interviewed Campion about how she told the story with Fanny as the main character rather than focusing the story on Keats himself. Their conversation was fascinating, and highlights the reasons why we love Jane in her other work as well!
Campion notes in the interview that there are only two scenes that do not include Fanny, and she debated with herself about whether they should be included in the film at all because the true focus of the film was meant to be Fanny. As Jan writes, “Campion dares to tell this story from Fanny’s point of view.” Fanny was a fashionable and popular socialite, who enjoyed artistic pursuits like sewing even if she wasn’t encouraged to write poetry due to being a woman. That’s one of the reasons Keats is drawn to her in the film, as well as for her firecracker personality. The two are a true oppositional pairing, with Keats taking himself more seriously and not concerning himself with love and Fanny representing all the fun there is to be had in society. As Keats’s muse, Fanny inspires love poems by embodying the spirit of love in Keats’s life.
The physicality between Fanny and Keats in this film was another subject of conversation between Jan and Jane, due to the casting of actors whose physiques subverted conventions of gender roles. As Jan put it: “Visually, I sensed Fanny becoming an embodiment of the life force for Keats, just at the point he knew he was dying.” For context, in the film, Fanny is played by the robust and vital Abbie Cornish. Her character’s fiery spirit is embodied in the obvious physical health of the actress portraying her. Meanwhile Keats is played by the delicate-boned Ben Whishaw. This is an oppositional effect from typical gender roles since in Western culture societal norms dictate that the man is usually supposed to be the physically stronger partner than the woman.
Campion put a lot of research into Bright Star, assiduously learning everything about the unorthodox housing situation the two young lovers found themselves in when they were both living in the same “double house” manor home. “What joy to me, with my research, when I worked out that, in fact, it was probably most likely that they had shared the same bed! Keats had lived in the house, sleeping in the bed that Fanny was now sleeping in!” exclaims Campion. While the well-known across-the-wall scene in Bright Star might not have been based in reality, “they were living in the same space and sharing the same garden. They would’ve had this incredible access to each other which is really what intimacy feeds off.”
What her conversation with Jan shows is that Campion is a director with a strong sense of detail and physicality. This can be seen in Jane’s work in The Piano as well as in the scenes from Bright Star she discussed with Jan. The way the two lovers in Bright Star relate to each other through oppositional physicality and spatial awareness reminded me of the choreography of the glances between Ada and George as Ada plays the piano. The two of them have a slightly less innocent romance than Fanny and Keats do, but Campion put the same awareness of each other’s movements into their interactions together. Her films often feature female sexuality as a primary theme, as in her film The Portrait of a Lady, so it makes sense that this perspective on her female characters allows her to make relationships feel more equally intense.
You can see Jane Campion’s work in The Piano and Bright Star, or in her debut Sweetie, the biopic Angel at my Table, the controversial The Portrait of a Lady, or her Elisabeth Moss-led TV miniseries Top of the Lake. We know we’re using this time to enjoy the work of female filmmakers as much as we can, and we hope this profile on Jane Campion will make her one of your top choices for your own Netflix quarantine binge! You can also check out our other tribute pieces to see the other awesome female filmmakers we’re promoting during this time!
© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (4/10/20) FF2 Media
Featured photo: Jane Campion directs Bright Star
Middle photo: Bright Star
Bottom photo: Jane Campion directs The Piano