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BRIGHT STAR – Mark Bradshaw

September 18, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A lush, but ultimately tragic costume drama based on the life of 19th century romantic poet John Keats, Bright Star tells the story of the passionate but ill-fated relationship between Keats and a flirtatious, forward-thinking fashion designer Fanny Brawne, which would be cut short by Keats’ death in 1821 at the age of just 25. Directed by Jane Campion and starring Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish as Keats and Brawne, Bright Star has received a great deal of critical acclaim for its lead performances, with Cornish especially tipped for Oscar recognition.

The music for Bright Star is by young Australian composer Mark Bradshaw, who collaborated with director Campion on several short films, and wrote music for several Australian theater productions prior to working on this, his first major feature film. The gimmick of the album is that all but three of the cues on Lakeshore’s album are overlaid by recordings of lead actors Whishaw and Cornish reading some of Keats’ most famous poetry. While this makes perfect sense in the context of the film, and allows fans to be reminded of the film’s most romantic content, it unfortunately detracts enormously from Bradshaw’s music, often obscuring some of the most beautiful writing on the CD, notably “Bright Star” and the conclusive “Ode to a Nightingale”, which would otherwise have been wonderful, especially with the addition of solo vocalists in the latter.

Bradshaw’s music – that we can hear – is rooted in the ‘contemporary classical’ style, with a small chamber orchestra augmented by a solo harpsichord, solo violin and low synth drones, which give the whole affair a dreamy, slightly timeless air that is quite appropriate given the quixotic nature of Keats’ poetry. The opening “Negative Capability” and, later, “Letters” are the best examples of the general air of the score, more textural than theme-driven, and never truly embracing a full romanticism, instead remaining aloof and distant. Later, “Return” and “Convulsion” continue the distant style, with more shifting cello chords, some quite stark and abrasive, while “Bright Star” is more lyrical, with a wandering solo violin theme lamenting Keats’ impending demise.

The best track on the album is the gorgeous “Yearning”, which after a few moments of narration presents an extended sequence of unsullied orchestral music for a weeping violin that is simply sublime. An album for fans of the film, then, but those seeking only the music will probably be left disappointed due to the unthoughtful album presentation.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Negative Capability (3:55)
  • La Belle Dame Sans Merci (2:28)
  • Return (0:58)
  • Human Orchestra (performed by Samuel Barnett, Mark Bradshaw, Cameron Woodhouse, Ben Whishaw and Daniel Johnston) (1:48)
  • Convulsion (0:52)
  • Bright Star (1:49)
  • Letters (3:49)
  • Yearning (2:24)
  • Ode to a Nightingale (5:24)

Running Time: 23 minutes 27 seconds

Lakeshore Records LKS-34105 (2009)

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