More chaste yet almost as erotically minded as her previous films (The Piano, Portrait of a Lady), writer-director Jane Campion's gorgeous Bright Star presents the three-year relationship between ill-fated poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne as a love of consuming intensity and mutual concessions.

More chaste yet almost as erotically minded as her previous films (The Piano, Portrait of a Lady), writer-director Jane Campion's gorgeous Bright Star presents the three-year relationship between ill-fated poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne as a love of consuming intensity and mutual concessions.

When they meet, Keats (Ben Whishaw) is published but still unknown, living with fellow poet Charles Brown (Paul Schneider, in a big, beefy turn that's alternately refreshing and aggravating).

Fanny (Abbie Cornish) lives nearby with her mother (Kerry Fox) and two younger siblings, and spends the days hand-sewing clothes for her own bold wardrobe. Playful verbal sparring between them blossoms quickly into romance, all while Brown openly shares his disdain for Fanny.

Their passion is tempered by the rules of early 19th-century society and the unpleasant knowledge that his poverty prevents their marriage, a situation that comes up a lot in period pieces but is handled here with welcome restraint.

Nonetheless, Cornish's Fanny is the picture of a girl in the throes of first love, and her unguarded performance creates a needed source of heat. It's something you don't get from Whishaw, whose Keats is too internalized and focused on the pragmatic, or from Campion.

Though Bright Star holds some of her most lush imagery, it also carries something that seems to come up in all of Campion's films: a vaguely clinical coldness.