In the opening lines of “Negative Capability” – the first track on the soundtrack to writer/director Jane Campion’s new film Bright Star – actress Abbie Cornish (as Fanny Brawne – love interest to a young John Keats) softly remarks the following: “I still don’t know how to work out a poem.” To this Ben Whishaw (as Keats) proceeds to explain in lilting terms how reading a poem is like diving into a lake. At the conclusion of this discussion a moving mixture of violins, viola, cello and keyboards that has been quietly darting around in the background rises up and engulfs the track. It’s a truly beautiful opening to a soundtrack.

Composer Mark Bradshaw’s work on this album marks an impressive, though humble, opening act for any composer – this is Bradshaw’s first feature length composition. The complete album only amounts to about 23 and a half minutes over a grand total of nine tracks, many of which include the lead actors (Whishaw and Cornish) speaking dialogue from the film. Then there’s the track “Human Orchestra” which is a Mozart piece (Serenade in Bb, K. 361) arranged by Bradshaw, but not an original composition. But despite the lack of time dedicated to Bradshaw’s music he nonetheless manages a great deal in the few tracks that do prominently feature his work, establishing himself as a composer worthy of dramatic material and a young musician to keep an eye (and ear) on.

In the few musical tracks that Bradshaw composed himself (“Convulsion” and “Return” are the only two not either written by Mozart or prominently featuring Cornish and/or Whishaw’s movie dialogue – and each are less than a minute long), Bradshaw lays out intense (and similar) violin music to provide somewhat of a theme. This theme is also heard again in film dialogue tracks, such as the slightly overdramatic title track, which is led by Cornish weepingly reciting poetic dialogue. The track “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” stood out to me as an especially memorable track, though it plays more like an audiobook of a Keats poem more than a score track. Whishaw’s reading and Keats’ words combine for a nice bit of poetry that really sucks you in. Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable album, and even though the tracks occasionally feel burdened by too much dialogue, for the most part the actor’s voices add rather than detract from the elegance of Bradshaw’s music.

Zach’s Rating: B- (would be higher if there was more music here)
Perfect For: A beautiful collection of Keats poetry backed by music
Stay Away if: You’re looking for music and not movie dialogue

To purchase the soundtrack for Bright Star, visit Amazon

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