For first-time film composer Mark Bradshaw, the job of scoring Jane Campion’s ethereal period pic “Bright Star” began with words rather than notes on a page.
The film — which centers on famed British poet John Keats, played by Ben Whishaw, and his short-lived romance with a woman named Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) — incorporates Keats’ poetry into its emotional core, as does the music, Bradshaw insists.
“I always wanted the music to come from within the story,” Bradshaw tells Variety. “Fortunately, I had Keats’ poetry and his letters to help me (access) the characters’ internal rhythms.”
Bradshaw describes the movie as a “domestic story” with “raw vulnerability” that lent itself to more intimate orchestrations, featuring violin, cello and harpsichord solos.
For the track “Human Orchestra,” Bradshaw adapted Mozart’s “Serenede No. 10 for Winds” as a vocal arrangement where he, along with several actors from the film, sing a capella during a cozy parlor scene. Bradshaw says he chose the piece because of its “interweaving, syncopated accompaniment,” and compares the treatment to one of Keats’ poems.
“There’s a tenderness that reminds me of Keats and his poetry,” Bradshaw says. “I just find it very beautiful and elegant with a kind of other-worldly quality.”
That same motif accompanies Keats’ poetry during the film’s end credits — something Campion was hesitant to try, Bradshaw says, but ultimately proved effective.
A.O. Scott writes in his review for the New York Times: “You will want to stay until the very last bit of the end credits, not necessarily to read the name of each gaffer and grip, but to savor every syllable of Mr. Whishaw’s recitation of ‘Ode to a Nightingale.'”
“We wanted to let it breathe; to give it its own space,” Bradshaw says of the poetry. “The music gently allows you to go on a journey without completely understanding it.”