Screenplay Edit: “Bright Star”

Screenshot by the author; © 2009 by Pathe UK.

Bright Star tells the true story of nineteenth-century English romantic poet John Keats and his three-year love affair with his muse, Fanny Brawne. The script was written by Jane Campion.

💬 Original lines appear as code blocks, edited lines appear as “quote blocks,” changes appear as boldface, and commentary appears as regular text. Original lines that do not require editing are run into the same code blocks as original lines that follow them and do.

Original Text

EXT. HAMPSTEAD HEATH - DAYFanny and Mr Brown cross the road onto the Heath, where Keats leads them down an AVENUE OF TREES, then across a FROST SCORCHED MEADOW to a COPSE of WINTER ELMS.No one speaks. There is gravity to Keats’s mood and an anger. Keats takes sidelong glances at Fanny.KEATS
I was away but 10 days Brown, with you encouraging me to stay on and get well. Now you send Miss Brawne a valentine card. Are you lovers, is that the truth?
Keats walks off again unable to stand still. Keats walks past Mr Brown.MR BROWN
No John...
KEATS
You sent a card Charles, you have the income to marry, where I cannot. Did you accept him Miss Brawne? Am I to congratulate you?
Mr Brown moves to Keats and by putting his back to Fanny talks privately.MR BROWN
John, easy, it was a jest.
KEATS
For whom? I do not laugh, Miss Brawne does not laugh.
MR BROWN
I wrote the valentine to amuse Fanny who makes a religion of flirting. I am simply smoking her so you may see who she is.
Mr Brown puts his arm about Keats. Keats pulls away.KEATS
You disgust me.
MR BROWN
John she is a poetry scholar one week and what, a military expert the next? It is a game, she collects suitors.
KEATS
You astound me...both of you. There is a holiness to the heart’s affections, know you nothing of that? Believe me it’s not pride, it hurts my heart.
Keats walks up to Fanny and stands in front of her.KEATS (cont’d)
Are you in love with Mr Brown? Why don’t you speak?
MR BROWN
She can’t speak because she only knows how to flirt and sew.
Fanny walks away, humiliated.MR BROWN (CALLING AFTER HER) (cont’d)
And read all Milton whose rhymes do not pounce because Miss Brawne there are none! There are one or two of her kind in every fashionable drawing room of this city “aheming” over skirt lengths.
A troubled Keats takes a moment or two to decide then runs after Fanny. Together they walk across the Heath.KEATS
I’m sorry. We could have a poetry lesson tomorrow.
Fanny turns to him, tears streaking her face.FANNY (AN IMPRESSIVE RAGE)
NO! NO! I want to dance and flirt and talk of flounces and ribbons and beading until I find my old happiness and humour.
Keats is impressed by her passion.

Line Edit

EXT. HAMPSTEAD HEATH - DAYFanny and Mr Brown cross the road onto the Heath, where Keats leads them down an AVENUE OF TREES, then across a FROST SCORCHED MEADOW to a COPSE of WINTER ELMS.

Throughout this script, John Keats is referred to by the characters as “John” and by the narrator (the author) as “Keats.” Given the intimacy of this story, and given that there are more than one Keats in it, “John” seems more appropriate. So let’s replace this and all other instances of Keats with John. And for similar reasons, let’s also replace this and all other instances of Mr Brown with Charles.

Fanny and Charles cross the road onto the Heath, where John leads them down an AVENUE OF TREES, then across a FROST SCORCHED MEADOW to a COPSE of WINTER ELMS.

All-caps is used to denote character-name introductions, camera direction, and sound effects. Thus, since the words styled in all-caps in this sentence do not meet this criteria, let’s remove the all-caps styling. Let’s also improve the mechanics of the sentence by adding a comma after road, to indicate that Charles and Fanny cross the road and then step onto the heath; lowercasing Heath, as the word is used here as a common noun and not a proper noun; and inserting a hyphen between frost and scorched, to indicate this as a compound modifier of meadow.

Fanny and Charles cross the road, onto the heath, where John leads them down an avenue of trees, then across a frost-scorched meadow to a copse of winter elms.

No one speaks.

Unless the characters are speaking, readers will assume that the characters are not speaking. So let’s remove this line.

There is gravity to John’s mood and an anger.

The previous scene describes John as “agitated,” pacing in the rain outside Fanny’s house, waiting for Fanny to come outside so he can confront her about the valentine. When she comes out, and when he confronts her, she tells him that she thinks the valentine was a joke. Charles then appears down the road and calls to John, who, in response to seeing Charles, storms into the heath. All of this is sufficient to illustrate John’s mood, so let’s remove this line.

John takes sidelong glances at Fanny.

Although this line conveys both John’s displeasure with Fanny and his interest in observing her response to the situation, it nevertheless feels arbitrary and unnecessary. So let’s remove it.

JOHNI was away but 10 days Brown, with you encouraging me to stay on and get well.

Since numerals cannot be spoken, let’s spell out 10. Also, since John is addressing Charles directly, let’s insert a comma before Brown. (And to avoid repeating this edit, let’s do the same for all other similar instances of direct address.) And to make the line more personal, let’s replace Brown with Charles.

I was away but ten days, Charles, with you encouraging me to stay on and get well.

Now you send Miss Brawne a valentine card.

With the exception of Miss in Miss Brawne, all personal titles in this script are abbreviated. So let’s employ consistency and replace this and all other instances of Miss with Ms. Also, a valentine is a card sent on Valentine’s Day; thus, card is redundant in this sentence. So let’s remove it.

Now you send Ms Brawne a valentine.

Are you lovers, is that the truth?

This sentence contains two questions, so let’s separate them into unique sentences. And let’s also replace that with this, as this is closer in proximity than that, and John is referring to what he just said.

Are you lovers? Is this the truth?

John walks off again unable to stand still. John walks past Charles.

The author of this script is also the director of the film made from it. As such — and as is often the case with scripts written by writer-directors — these lines contain blocking instead of action. The difference between blocking and action is that blocking refers to the actors’ movements relative to the scene (and camera) whereas action refers to the characters’ behaviors relative to their desires and motivations. Thus, such lines are generally better given as direction to the actors portraying the characters, and not to readers of the script, as there is little interesting or useful to readers about a character simply walking away and then walking back, doing nothing between. So let’s remove these lines.

CHARLESNo, John...

Since Charles is not pausing, omitting words, or trailing off, let’s replace the ellipsis with a period.

No, John.

JOHNYou sent a card, Charles, you have the income to marry, where I cannot.

Since we removed card from John’s previous line and retained only valentine, let’s maintain consistent terminology across John’s lines and replace card with valentine here. Let’s also fix the run-on sentence by inserting a period after Charles and capitalizing you as the start of a new sentence.

You sent a valentine, Charles. You have the income to marry, where I cannot.

Whereas where is a conjunction that indicates place or respect, whereas is a conjunction that indicates contrast (comparison). Thus, since John is comparing himself to Charles, let’s replace where with whereas. And let’s also remove the comma preceding it. Also, since John is comparing incomes with Charles — and not their abilities to marry, which abilities are consequences of their incomes — let’s replace cannot with do not.

You sent a valentine, Charles. You have the income to marry whereas I do not.

Did you accept him, Ms Brawne?Am I to congratulate you?Charles moves to John and by putting his back to Fanny talks privately.

Moves to is vague, as what does it mean for Charles to move to John? And how exactly does he move — does he walk, run? Further, the positions of the characters have not been specified by the author; the author has stated only that John is leading Fanny and Charles through the heath. As such, readers cannot effectively orient each character in (imaginary) space — both absolutely and relative to each other — so as to understand what it means for Charles to move to John. However, defining their positions would require rewriting parts of the scene, and this information is simply irrelevant to readers anyway. So let’s just revise this sentence to convey only that Charles talks privately with John.

Charles puts his back to Fanny and talks privately with John.

CHARLESJohn, easy, it was a jest.

Since this sentence contains two related independent clauses not separable or combinable by a conjunction (and, but, so…), let’s combine them with a semicolon.

John, easy; it was a jest.

JOHNFor whom?I do not laugh, Ms Brawne does not laugh.

There are two related independent clauses in this sentence, and the comma that separates them is insufficient to indicate as much. And although we could replace the comma with a period and define each clause as a unique sentence, a better option is to replace the comma with a semicolon and define each clause as an item in a list, as this more accurately conveys John’s intention; indeed, John is listing as evidence against Charles the people who are not laughing at Charles’s jest. So let’s replace the comma with a semicolon.

I do not laugh; Ms Brawne does not laugh.

CHARLESI wrote the valentine to amuse Fanny who makes a religion of flirting.

The who-clause in this sentence is non-restrictive — meaning, it does not restrict (or is not essential for conveying) the meaning of the sentence. As such, the clause should be preceded by a comma, to indicate that the information in the clause is additive. So let’s insert a comma after Fanny.

I wrote the valentine to amuse Fanny, who makes a religion of flirting.

I am simply smoking her so you may see who she is.Charles puts his arm about John. John pulls away.

These two short sentences feel clunky compared to the rest of the writing. So let’s improve their flow by combining them with the coordinating conjunction but.

Charles puts his arm about John, but John pulls away.

JOHNYou disgust me.CHARLESJohn, she is a poetry scholar one week and what, a military expert the next?

Since what is an interruption in Charles’s thinking and speech, let’s place it between a pair of em dashes.

John, she is a poetry scholar one week andwhata military expert the next?

It is a game, she collects suitors.

Since this sentence contains two related independent clauses not separable or combinable by a conjunction, let’s combine them with a semicolon.

It is a game; she collects suitors.

JOHNYou astound me...both of you.

Since John is not pausing or faltering or omitting words, rather expounding, let’s replace the ellipsis with an em dash.

You astound meboth of you.

There is a holiness to the heart’s affections, know you nothing of that?

The comma in this sentence is referred to as a “comma splice,” as it separates, or “splices,” two independent clauses in the absence of a coordinating conjunction. And although I would typically replace this comma with a period, semicolon, or em dash (to avoid confusion), I’m okay with leaving it here and simply regarding what follows it as a tag (right?, you know?, etc.); indeed, I think doing so better conveys John’s frantic delivery of the line. So let’s leave the comma. But let’s replace that with this, as this is closer in proximity than that, and John is referring to what he just said.

There is a holiness to the heart’s affections, know you nothing of this?

Believe me it’s not pride, it hurts my heart.

Believe me in this sentence is an introductory clause, so let’s insert a comma after it to indicate it as such, and let’s separate the remaining, related independent clauses with a semicolon.

Believe me, it’s not pride; it hurts my heart.

John walks up to Fanny and stands in front of her.

If John walks “up to” Fanny, then he simply walks to Fanny — meaning, up is unnecessary. So let’s remove it.

John walks to Fanny and stands in front of her.

JOHN (cont’d)

Since John’s next line is not a continuation of his previous line (which line was spoken to Charles, and not to Fanny, to whom he is speaking now), let’s remove the extension from his character name.

JOHN

Are you in love with Mr Brown?Why don’t you speak?CHARLESShe can’t speak because she only knows how to flirt and sew.

Although this sentence is generally understandable and as such could be left as is without consequence, only is misplaced. What Charles means in this line is that Fanny cannot speak, not because she cannot speak, but because she does not know how to speak; the only things she knows how to do are flirt and sew. In other words, Charles is specifying the range of Fanny’s competence, not her capacity. However, the placement of only in this sentence (before knows) specifies the range of Fanny’s capacity; indeed, Charles is saying that Fanny is capable only of knowing how to flirt and sew, which is distinct from saying that the only things she knows how to do are flirt and sew (which is what he means). So let’s clarify the meaning of this sentence by swapping the positions of only and knows. Oh, and let’s also insert a comma after speak.

She can’t speak, because she knows only how to flirt and sew.

Fanny walks away, humiliated.

That Fanny “walks” away from Charles and John does not convey to them nor readers her humiliation. So let’s replace walks with a more telling action.

Fanny runs away, humiliated.

CHARLES (CALLING AFTER HER) (cont’d)

The extension and the parenthetical in this line are misplaced, so let’s swap their positions and styling and move the true parenthetical (CALLING AFTER HER) down a line.

CHARLES (CONTD)
(calling after her)

And read all Milton whose rhymes do not pounce because Ms Brawne there are none!

This line is just missing a lot of commas, so let’s put ‘em in there.

And read all Milton, whose rhymes do not pounce, because, Ms Brawne, there are none!

There are one or two of her kind in every fashionable drawing room of this city “aheming” over skirt lengths.

As written, this sentence is understandable; however, the modifier “aheming” over skirt lengths is misplaced, as it describes, not the one or two of Fanny’s kind in the city, but the city itself. So let’s add a comma after city to indicate that “aheming” over skirt lengths describes the one or two of Fanny’s kind. And while we’re at it, let’s remove the quotation marks from aheming and instead style this word in italics.

There are one or two of her kind in every fashionable drawing room of this city, aheming over skirt lengths.

A troubled John takes a moment or two to decide then runs after Fanny.

That John is troubled in this scene is self-evident; however, what exactly John is deciding here is not, since John has not been given an ultimatum nor been asked to make a decision. I believe that what the author is trying to convey, though, is that John is torn between trusting Charles and letting Fanny go, or dismissing Charles and pursuing Fanny. But given John’s argument thus far, I don’t buy this dilemma; John is upset with Charles, not because Charles sent Fanny a valentine, but because Charles took lightly — and continues to take lightly — John’s affections, which affections John maintains are holy. Thus, both John and Charles already know what John wants to do, and Charles is just being an ass about it, so let’s just make John do it.

John runs after Fanny.

Together they walk across the Heath.

Let’s improve the flow of this and the previous sentence by combining them with the coordinating conjunction and. And let’s also lowercase Heath, as the word is used here as a common noun and not a proper noun.

John runs after Fanny, and together they walk across the heath.

JOHNI’m sorry. We could have a poetry lesson tomorrow.Fanny turns to him, tears streaking her face.

Although the description of Fanny’s tears “streaking her face” adds to the reader’s imagination of Fanny’s appearance, it is nevertheless redundant (and clichéd), as what else would Fanny’s tears streak if not her face, and what else would her tears do to her face if not streak it? So let’s remove this description — or, at least, let’s remove the redundancy in this description.

Fanny turns to him, in tears.

FANNY (AN IMPRESSIVE RAGE)

Since the information in the extension in this line is not a character name change or a dialogue designation, and since Fanny’s proceeding lines are sufficient to indicate her emotion and delivery, let’s remove this extension.

FANNY

NO! NO! I want to dance and flirt and talk of flounces and ribbons and beading until I find my old happiness and humour.

Exclamation points are sufficient to convey yelling, so let’s remove the all-caps styling from the NOs in these lines. And to indicate that Fanny increases in intensity from the first NO to the second NO, let’s replace the exclamation point after the first NO with a period.

No. No! I want to dance and flirt and talk of flounces and ribbons and beading until I find my old happiness and humour.

John is impressed by her passion.

That John is impressed by Fanny’s passion does not tell readers (or the characters) what he does about being impressed. And if he does nothing, then his being impressed is irrelevant. So let’s give John an action that demonstrates his being impressed; let’s have him smile. Also, although passion is an accurate word to describe Fanny’s emotion here, it is imprecise. So let’s replace it with resolve.

John smiles, impressed by her resolve.

Edited Text

EXT. HAMPSTEAD HEATH - DAYFanny and Charles cross the road, onto the heath, where John leads them down an avenue of trees, then across a frost-scorched meadow to a copse of winter elms.JOHN
I was away but ten days, Charles, with you encouraging me to stay on and get well. Now you send Ms Brawne a valentine. Are you lovers? Is this the truth?
CHARLES
No, John.
JOHN
You sent a valentine, Charles. You have the income to marry whereas I do not. Did you accept him, Ms Brawne? Am I to congratulate you?
Charles puts his back to Fanny and talks privately with John.CHARLES
John, easy; it was a jest.
JOHN
For whom? I do not laugh; Ms Brawne does not laugh.
CHARLES
I wrote the valentine to amuse Fanny, who makes a religion of flirting. I am simply smoking her so you may see who she is.
Charles puts an arm about John, but John pulls away.JOHN
You disgust me.
CHARLES
John, she is a poetry scholar one week and - what - a military expert the next? It is a game; she collects suitors.
JOHN
You astound me - both of you. There is a holiness to the heart’s affections, know you nothing of this? Believe me, it is not pride; it hurts my heart.
John walks to Fanny and stands in front of her.JOHN
Are you in love with Mr Brown? Why don’t you speak?
CHARLES
She can’t speak, because she knows only how to flirt and sew.
Fanny runs away, humiliated.CHARLES (CONTD)
(calling after her)
And read all Milton, whose rhymes do not pounce, because, Ms Brawne, there are none! There are one or two of her kind in every fashionable drawing room of this city, aheming over skirt lengths.
John runs after Fanny, and together they walk across the heath.JOHN
I’m sorry. We could have a poetry lesson tomorrow.
Fanny turns to him, in tears.FANNY
No. No! I want to dance and flirt and talk of flounces and ribbons and beading until I find my old happiness and humour.
John smiles, impressed by her resolve.

I hope this demonstration has been useful to you, and that it furthered your understanding of editing as well as enabled and encouraged you to improve the quality and efficiency of your own work. See you next time.

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