Jane Campion’s Bright Star is named for a poem by John Keats: The phrase describes the romantic master’s incandescent regard for his beloved, Fanny Brawne, with whom he shared a passionate correspondence before his death from tuberculosis at the age of 26.

The film is highlighted by the performance of Abbie Cornish, whose performance as Brawne is marked by a quiet but palpable strength: She doesn’t play her as a great man’s muse, but rather, as a courageous young woman holding fast against familial and social pressures to break off her romance.

“I didn’t know much about Keats or his work before we made the film,” says Cornish.

“So I jumped online and started reading his poems and they just drew me in, because they’re so beautiful. In fact, one of the best things about doing the film was that we had poetry readings, where the cast and crew would sit and read aloud together. Like we would all get to together to discuss Ode To A Nightingale with wine and cheese.”

Although Bright Star is a film of intense and roiling emotions, Cornish’s description of the shoot makes it sound positively idyllic. “She’s always very inside whatever it is she’s making,” says Cornish of her director, whose last film was the disastrously received American thriller In the Cut. “As a director, Jane likes the set to feel like the scene, so if it’s a quiet, intimate moment (in the film), the set reflects that — it’s very calm and there aren’t too many people around.”

Cornish’s next project sounds less idyllic: She’s slated to star in Watchmen director Zack Snyder’s upcoming Sucker Punch.

“It’s about girls trying to escape from a psychiatric ward in the ’60s,” says Cornish, “and it takes place in three different environments, or worlds.”

In lieu of poetry study, Cornish’s preparation for the part has entailed intense martial arts training. “It’s great,” she says, flexing her arm to show off some newly developed muscles — a show of strength worthy of her Bright Star character.

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