Movie Travel: Inspired by "Bright Star," a Trek to Keats' Hampstead, London

September 25, 2009
by Sarah Amandolare
Atop a hill in North London sits leafy Hampstead, an elegant neighborhood teeming with open spaces, historic architecture and the former home of John Keats. The poet's love affair with Fanny Brawne is the subject of "Bright Star," a new film serving as inspiration for travelers to the British city. 

Campion's Resurgence

Jane Campion, director of the film "Bright Star," was inspired by a biography of John Keats written by Andrew Morton. She structured her screenplay around the chaste relationship between Keats and Brawne, focusing on the many letters the tortured couple wrote to each other, according to The New York Times. The film, "[s]umptuously photographed in England and costumed to peg Brawne as a punk fashionista for her time," could put Campion back in the spotlight after such well-received previous films like "The Piano."

Keats House

A charming white abode, "originally built as a pair of semi-detached houses known as Wentworth Place," Keats House was shared by Keats and Charles Armitage Brown for two years. According to the City of London Web site, the period is considered by many to have been Keats' most productive, which some attribute to his relationship with Brawne. In 1838 and '39, the two homes were "converted into one," by owner Eliza Chester, and it stayed a private residence until the threat of demolition prompted protest by both the U.S. and Europe. Keats House finally opened as a museum in 1925.

After a lengthy and expensive restoration process that brought the home closer to its "appearance during the poet's life," Keats House reopened in July. The home now displays new items, including "the gold engagement ring" given to Brawne by Keats in 1820, according to the Daily Telegraph. Also added to the decor is a reproduction of the unattractive curtains that encircled Keats' bed during his battle with tuberculosis.

A recent article by Robert Costa in The Wall Street Journal sheds more light on Keats' struggles. In December 1818, according to Costa, Keats showed up at his friend Brown's doorstep, devastated over the death of his brother. Just 23 years old at the time, Keats stayed on for 17 months, during which time he wrote great works including "Ode on a Grecian Urn," among other poems that have inspired "thousands to journey to this nook of London," Costa writes.

The Hampstead Scene: Parks, Pubs and Classic Architecture

Visit London has free podcasts to download, covering travel in Hampstead. The tourism site also offers insight into the atmosphere in Hampstead, a popular neighborhood of "London's intelligentsia and rich," sitting atop a hill and featuring leafy trees, "fine cafes, boutiques, Georgian buildings and pubs." Consult the lengthy list of "Points of Interest in Hampstead," including the Freud Museum and Hampstead Heath, an open space with a "remarkable range of habitats," such as grassland and one of a handful of bogs in the city.

According to Nile Guide, Hampstead can be likened to Highgate, as both areas of North London "are not convenient to central London," but offer lovely views over the entire city. Nile Guide's "Things to Do" section includes visits to classic homes and the Kenwood House concert series. Many restaurants are listed, including The Place Below, a vegetarian eatery housed in a church crypt. Hotels and bar suggestions in Hampstead are also provided.

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