159 of 169 people found the following review helpful
A marvelous period film in the best Weinstein tradition
, December 23, 2006
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.
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