Mayor of London Boris Johnson provided a waggish warm-up act for the London Film Festival’s Centrepiece Gala screening of Bright Star last night. After confirming his £5 million backing for the BFI’s new film centre, he declared his relief that certain alternative films hadn’t been chosen instead for the festival’s mayoral gala. In different circumstances, he might have found himself on stage at the Odeon Leicester Square introducing Up (potentially a swipe at his fares policy) or Fantastic Mr Fox (possibly a dig at the Tory position on hunting). Instead, festival director Sandra Hebron’s choice of Jane Campion’s ravishing drama about the love affair between John Keats and Fanny Brawne, gave Boris the opportunity to show off his poetry reciting skills, reeling off Keats’s ‘On first looking into Chapman’s Homer’, before bigging up the film industry’s role in London’s economy (“up 31%”) by means of the jocular inquiry “How much does a Grecian Urn?”
After Boris’s “opening drum roll”, however, it was left to Campion to introduce the film itself. Confessing her former terror of poetry, she thanked Andrew Motion (sitting in the audience), whose biography of Keats had encouraged her to make the film. “This film transformed me more than any other of my films,” she revealed. “I came out less terrified.” And Motion’s book gave her an incredibly inspiring subject. For Campion, the love affair at her film’s heart is “as powerful as Romeo and Juliet. But it’s true! And we have the love letters.”
Bright Star is on general release from 6th November.