368 of 381 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2007
"Because you are fond of fairy tales," Beatrix Potter wrote to one of her favorite children in 1901, "I have made you a story all for yourself, a new one that nobody has read before."
Now, a century later, "Miss Potter" (directed by Chris Noonan, starring Rene Zellweger) has a new story to tell, and quite a fairy tale it is, too, with all the delightful magic of one of Beatrix Potter's own stories: winsome characters, luscious settings, strong period details. I was charmed by this film (viewed on DVD, with all the extras), and spent an enchanted evening watching it. As a movie, it is fine family entertainment--something that's hard to come by, these days.
But the film has been widely billed as a biopic, and if you were looking for a story that's true to Beatrix's life, this one might mislead you. Richard Maltby (who wrote the script and spent some 10 years trying to get it produced) and Chris Noonan have teamed up to give us a lovely fairy tale, but one that is based on some fairly fundamental misrepresentations of Beatrix's real life.
Take that elaborate Christmas party, for instance, in a festooned Potter mansion. This dramatically pivotal event could never have happened, for Rupert and Helen Potter were Dissenters who did not celebrate Christmas--much to Beatrix's disappointment, as a child longing for a tree and the trimmings. (In life, both the Potters seem to have been much more dour people than their on-screen representations.)
Or take those childhood visits to the Lake Districts, which never happened either. The Potters holidayed in Scotland until Beatrix was 16. Which means that she could not have met Willie Heelis, who was nearly five years younger than Beatrix, anyway (not older, as the film portrays him). Oh, and Willie was the son of a rector and the Heelis family belonged to quite a different social class from the one in which Willie is placed in the film. More misrepresentation (although the on-screen Willie is a real charmer.)
But the most unfortunate distortion of all is the decision to collapse the eight years it took for Beatrix to become independent enough to leave her parents. The film portrayed Norman's death as the lever that pried her from the Potters' grasp. Not so. Beatrix bought Hill Top a few months after Norman died in 1905, but did not leave her parents until 1913, when she married Willie. For eight long, difficult years, Beatrix commuted from her parents' home or holiday residence to Sawrey. During that time, she could get away only five or six times a year, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for as much as a fortnight. Norman's death was indeed the prod she needed to make a change, but it wasn't until Willie offered her another choice that she was finally able to free herself. Compressing this long-running family conflict into a matter of months and hinging the whole thing on Norman's death distorts Beatrix's character and makes her seem more decisively "modern" than she was in real life.
As a novelist engaged in creating historical fictions (some of them featuring Beatrix Potter), I am always aware of the challenges of representing real people in fictional contexts, and worry when real lives are seriously distorted to make a story more entertaining. I enjoyed this film as a film, and give it five stars for its entertainment value. As a biopic, I'd give it a two, three to be generous. Putting the two together, a four-minus.
Oh, and for the real story of Beatrix's life, you'll want to read Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear.
Susan Wittig Albert is the author of The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Hill Top Farm (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter),The Tale of Holly How,The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood (Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter Mysteries),The Tale of Hawthorn House: The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and four other forthcoming novels in the series.
157 of 166 people found the following review helpful
I saw this lovely film this past week in Chicago at a preview showing and was simply delighted by it. Only five years ago this would have been a Miramax film, but following the messy departure of the Weinsteins from Miramax to form their own production company, they are distributing this joint production. Set in the early decades of the twentieth century, in a sort of extended Edwardian age, the film possesses a wonderful period feel and look. Like the best of the Miramax films, it feels like a time capsule more than a contemporary production.
With only some shame I have to admit to knowing very little about Beatrix Potter. To inject some autobiography, I was not read Potter as a child and though after my divorce I raised my daughter, reading to her constantly, there was an agreement that on her periodic visits to her mother she would be allowed to read her Beatrix Potter (because of a Potter obsession by her own godmother) and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read my daughter every other children's' writer, but was forbidden to dip into either of those. So I saw this biopic knowing next to nothing about her. The film seemed to me to give a good impression of who she was. She emerges in the film as a sort of timid feminist, not a activist, but quietly insisting on taking her own path. Though there are flashbacks to her childhood and the final quarter of the film focuses on her moving to the Lake District, most of the film deals with the period of partnership and eventually romance between her and her publisher, Norman Warne. One suspects that of necessity a great deal is left out, but as it exists it is compelling. I did a bit of checking on the Internet and discovered that she was not 32 in 1903, so the film obviously fudges some numbers, but as presented the film still provided a delightful portrait.
Renée Zellweger is wonderful in the title role. I have seen photographs of Beatrix Potter and there does not seem to be much of a resemblance between the two. To the film's credit, they do a great deal to de-emphasize Zellweger's loveliness. She isn't exactly plain, but she isn't as beautiful as usual. But she brings a delightful simplicity to her role. Ewan McGregor is fine in his role, but unlike their unfortunate film DOWN WITH LOVE, his role is not equal to hers in this one. He manages to be everything he needs to be. Emily Watson plays his sister. There are movie stars and there are actresses, and she is an actress. I have always been amazed at much her various roles can differ from one another. A lot of actresses, unfortunately, as they near the age of forty, have probably reached close to the end of their career. Watson is so splendid, however, and those huge eyes so expressive, that you sense that she probably hasn't reached half of her eventual film resume. I'm certain we'll be seeing her in roles thirty-five years from now. It was good to see Bill Paterson as Beatrix's father. He has always been one of my favorite supporting actors and for my money we have always seen far too little of him. Veteran British actress Barbara Flynn is excellent as well as Beatrix's mother.
Chris Noonan directed the film. The last time we encountered him as a director was in one of the most delightful films of the nineties, BABE. I have absolutely no idea what he has been up to the past decade, but this film has some of the same lush look that BABE did. Interestingly, animals feature prominently in both films.
The last part of the film, that centers on the beginning of the final chapter of Potter's life as a farmer in the Lake District, features some of the most stunning landscapes you can ever hope to see in a movie. The end of the film indicates that Miss Potter left 4,000 acres of Lake District property to the National Trust. I hope that some of those scenes were filmed on some of that property.
Finally, I want to add that while I've never been one to be on the lookout for "family" (which to me usually are synonymous with "boring" or "bland"), this film, which could easily receive a "G" rating, is a film that any parent could feel comfortable showing any child. Younger children might find it a bit slow, but any fan of Beatrix Potter, whether young or old, will surely enjoy this film. Indeed, as someone who cannot count himself among her fans (entirely through a complete lack of acquaintance), I can attest that those unfamiliar with her work will love the film as well.
82 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2007
I saw "Miss Potter" at the cinema and thoroughly enjoyed it. With beautiful scenery, moments to laugh out loud, times to cry, and a few delightful animations, "Miss Potter" takes us through the joys and frustrations of being a talented female author and illustrator in London at the turn of the century but being unrecognized as such by her own mother. I would heartily recommend this film!
52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2007
Everyone has a movie or two that captures the imagination and transports them away from the everyday and to a place of pure magic. "Miss Potter" is a near perfect film. When the showing finished on a recent Friday evening screening in Dallas, no one moved from their seats. Yes, the audience was an older, experienced group of folks, but I was moved by how many people apparently felt just as I did -- "This is what movies should be like!"
See it, and you too will likely be spreading the word with an almost missionary zeal. I haven't enjoyed a film this much in 20 years!
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2007
Delightful, just delightful. Zellweger is perfect in the role of Potter - compelling and you do think it's actually Beatrix Potter. Ewan MacGregor is a joy to watch smile right from his eyes, the character's enthusiasm seems his own. He and Emily Watson shine like morning sunshine in this absolutely beautiful film. I thought it was better than "The Queen" which I also saw recently. I also loved "The Painted Veil" with Naomi Watts. But there is something so delightfully sweet and moving about "Miss Potter" it should NOT be missed! You will cry at the love and loss in this movie. It was definitely a tear-jerker at times, but ultimately provided a very satisfying ending.
64 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2007
This wonderful movie is based on the life of Beatrix Potter, children's author and artist of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" amongst others. Spectacular acting and feel good story make for a highly recommendable cinematic experience. A must see!
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2007
First, if you think Renee Zellweger can't be convincing as a turn-of-the-20th-century upper class London lady, you're wrong. Don't feel bad; I was too, and happy to find it out. That being out of the way---
"Love" is one of those words that has been worked to death by the greeting card companies, the pop music industry and just about every commercial enterprise you can think of. If you want to remember exactly what it means, this movie offers a good strong display of many of its best facets. To name only a few examples:
1. Familial love: Beatrix and her brother Bertram grew up sharing everything together from the nursery on. Though Bertram's character disappers from the story while he is still a child, the adult Beatrix stauchly defends him in his absence, which comes to pass because he "married beneath his station" for--of all the screwy motives--love. Beatrix loves her parents, and they love her, their inability to see eye-to eye on the subject of matrimony notwithstanding. Her publisher/suitor Norman Warne seems very much at peace with his family, too. Beatrix's father, Rupert, respects her enough to make his wife/her mother keenly aware that their daughter has done the family proud by becoming a famous published author and artist. Heavens above--a movie without a single dysfunctional family! Isn't that a miracle or something?
2. Romantic love: The development of the love between Beatrix and Norman Warne is wonderful--true mutual respect and admiration and support of one another as individuals evolves into something downright enviable by the standards of any age--and all without any nudity. From now on, if I ever hear the tune "Let Me Teach You How to Dance," it will bring a tear to my eye. And if I don't hear it ever again, that'll do the same thing.
4. Love between friends: The relationship between Beatrix and Warne's single 30-something sister, played admirably (as always) by Emily Watson, is female bonding at its best. These 2 are in a culture that thinks a woman must marry to have a future that consists of more than tea and crumpets. It's a real treat to watch these two defy the norm and support each other in that bent and in so many other things. Whether they are defying the culture around them or one is rescuing the other from the throes of debilitating grief, they are feminine strength at its best.
5. Love for your fellow humans: Beatrix respects Mr. Heelis no less when they are children--and he is a farmhand's son while she is an aristocrat's daughter vacationing in the country--than she does when they are adults and he is a soliciter (that's a lawyer to us Yanks). Her mother's references to "trades people" as if they were an inferior species are presented in a way that makes her attitude blatently absurd. And there's that subtle, understated affection between the servants in the Potter household and the young Potters, expecially Beatrix, that defies description.
6. Self love: That's meant in the positive sense, as in self respect. Beatrix respects herself enough as an artist to persist at her craft and her efforts to bring it to the masses, despite just about everyone's discouraging her to do so--till Norman. Speaking of whom, Norman Warne respects himself enough to insist that he be allowed to prove himself in the family publishing business--and then do it. His sister respects herself enough to remain respectable while not compromising to convention at all. (I love it when she wins the big money playing whist with the gentlemen at the Potters' Christmas party while the real "ladies" are in another parlour singing carols.)
7. Love of the earth: Though it hardly gets 10 minutes' exposure in the movie, do note that Beatrix Potter used the fortune she rightfully accumulated on her own to purchase 4000 acres of land in England's beautiful Lake District and preserve it in a trust for everyone to enjoy in perpetuity. The clamor of residential real estate developers to buy up farm land and "put it to a good use" plunked this story right into the present moment. I hope somebody besides me was taking heed.
Great performances, great scenery, great story, great directing, great photography. Great snakes, what are you doing sitting here reading about this great movie? SEE IT!
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Taken for itself, this is a reasonably enjoyable period piece. An unusual woman makes a place for herself in a man's world, over the misdirected wishes of her family. She earns an independent income; it's not handed to her by family or marriage. Then, she uses her hard-earned wealth to preserve the beauty of the English countryside, a legacy that lives on today. Add in some personal triumphs and tragedies and it all came across nice enough in a drawing-room kind of way, but I found it forgettable.
What an opportunity lost. Beatrix Potter was all that - successful children's author and strong, headstrong woman in a time when that was not widely appreciated. Before taking on children's books, she was a perceptive field scientist and innovative if isolated lab mycologist. Even the male establishment was forced to acknowledge her discoveries, and the watercolor paintings that illustrated her records would still improve many modern textbooks. (That scientific training guided the gorgeous precision that rendered Peter and the rest.) In frustration she turned to children's books, a more seemly occupation for a woman, and excelled. She also established a good-sized merchandising industry around her characters, and that just multiplied her uncommon financial success.
The real, historical Potter deserves to have movies made about her - she just doesn't deserve this one. If you ignore the actual woman, scientist, and entrepeneur that the movie portrays, you'll find a fair but undemanding costume drama. That's all, though.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Miss Beatrix Potter (Renee Zellweger) has just about given up hope that she will ever get her story published. But she is surprised with the Warner Brothers decided to give her children's story and water color illustrations a chance. What she doesn't know is that they don't hold out much hope for it. They just think it is a good project to keep youngest brother Norman (Ewan McGregor) busy.
Miss Potter has her own vision for the book and is surprised to find that Mr. Warner shares her vision. The two work closely together on developing the perfect book.
Beatrix had planned to just write one, but at the encouragement of Norman, she begins working on more. And as the books begin to sell, the two become closer.
None of this sits well with Beatrix's parents (Bill Paterson and Barbara Flynn). Mrs. Potter especially thinks that their daughter should have married into a suitable match ages ago. And suitable can only mean someone with old money. But her parent's objections to her new found fame and relationship are about to be the least of her worries. Can she survive what is to come?
The movie focuses on the beginnings of Beatrix's writing career and her relationship with Norman. Near the beginning we are treated to a few flashbacks to her childhood, but just enough to show how she came to be the woman she was. And, while some details have been changed for dramatic purposes, the main details are true.
All the performances are good and draw you into the story. Parts of the film take place in the English Lake District, and the locations used show just how beautiful that area is.
The ads for the movie showed Beatrix's drawings coming to life. Over the course of the movie, this happens a few times. These scenes never overwhelm the film but add to the current mood.
My only complaint is the movie feels like it moves too quickly. I often wished it would slow down a little and explore the relationships more, especially the friendship between Beatrix and Norman's sister.
The movie was released by fits and starts around the country, making it easy to miss this gem. But if you did, now that it's out on DVD, be sure to catch it.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2007
When I was invited to view this film, admittedly there were a few reservations. A bio of the famous children's author and illustrator in 19th century England was not at the top of my "must see" film list. Although dragged along hesitantly, the film surpassed all expectations, leaving the theatre believing the world is a better place.
Beatrix Potter is a woman to be admired and a model for young women to emulate even in the 21st century. An artist in the fullest sense of the term, she created animal characters and charming stories that continue to be read by millions of children and their parents today. What makes Potter an example is her devotion to her art form and her diligence to be published in a "man's world".
Renee Zellweger is also a true artist, her acting seemingly getting better and better with every new project. Although her English accent has been the butt of jokes in the British media, she has those difficult nuances down pat when speaking the "Queen's English". For this particular role, she trained with a voice coach to ensure the accents authenticity, as many English actresses, wanting the part of the great English author, were poised and ready to pounce on Zellweger's performance, however, her performance left no room for criticism, as her role was played with subtlety and restraint.
One of the many themes in this wonderful film is England's class snobbery, personified beautifully by Barbra Flynn, as Beatrix mother. Ironically, so-called upper middle-class society and money, as Beatrix so eloquently points out in the film, came from the working and merchant trades of the industrial revolution. When Miss Potter wants to marry her publisher (Ewan McGregor) she is prevented from doing so because he comes from the "trade classes". Beatrix attempts to overcome these hypocritical prejudices, and manages to negotiate a proposal to marry the man; however, the tale takes a serious turn at this point, moving the plot in another direction.
Director Chris Noonan, to my knowledge, has not made a film since his masterpiece, Babe. Interestingly in both films animals have the mind and emotions of people. Noonan has brought that same magical atmosphere of Babe to Miss Potter giving each film an innocent quality without falling into sentimentality.
Miss Potter is an enchanting film, pleasant to watch leaving the viewer feeling amiable and positive about the world.