In 1818, the newly trained physician, John Keats (1795-1821) (Ben Wishaw) is living with his well-off friend, Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), and they are trying to devote themselves to the art of writing. Keats cannot abide the idea of having to practice medicine. 

The uneducated, fashion-conscious Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), notices Keats, moved by the care that he bestows on his dying brother. She offers a gift of a beautifully embroidered pillow, which soon finds it way into the lad’s coffin.

Affected by the young man’s death and the mystery of poetry, Fanny flings herself at Keats, undeterred by Brown’s open disapproval of her lack of class, education and bearing. Flattering his work, she asks Keats for lessons in literature and then reveals herself to a reasonable judge of poetry. In spite of himself Keats is drawn to her and declares his love.

But the poet’s health is fragile. Funds are raised to send him to Italy, and Keats announces that he must go, because his friends have decided. He seems to know that he will die. Fanny is brave and hopeful. Chastened, Charles Brown comes to Fanny’s home to announce the death of Keats in Rome.


Beautifully filmed with liberal reference to the poetry of Keats, this slow paced but interesting film pays special attention to the clothing and stifling mores of the time. Many scenes evoke the quiet interiors of period artists. It is based on the true, three-year relationship between Brawne and Keats.

The cringing mismatch between the sensitive physician-poet and the feckless, chattering Fanny is a major player. Could the woman who inspired those immortal poems really have sported such pedestrian clothing and taken pride in their confection?

Another player is the dramatic presence of tuberculosis. The single most important cause of death in the early nineteenth century, tuberculosis killed so many youthful artists that some thought it was a source of genius. Current opinion, however, links both the disease and artistry to poverty.

A third player is the excruciating dominance of the British class system defined not only by money and birth, but also by education. Brown’s resentment of Fanny, possibly born of sexual jealousy, found respectability in this socially condoned form of intolerance.


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