However, taking a look at who the Director is might indicate a little more about Miss Potter. I'm talking about Chris Noonan, director of Babe. Might that suggest a Fantasy Element? Might the Moon be made of Green Cheese? It might. It might.
Noonan's film picks up right about the time that the hopeful and apple-cheeked Miss Potter (here very well played by Renée Zellweger) is reluctantly given her contract for publication of her first book. Well, that was easy... case closed, roll the credits, thanks Renée, strike the set.
Oh, wait, no... Turns out it wasn't that easy. Boy was it not. First we get the truth about the present (1902, when she's 36 years of age). It turns out that publishers Harold Warne (Anton Lesser) and Fruing Warne (David Bamber) of Frederick Warne & Company have only accepted her book to keep their bumbling little wannabe brother Norman busy, so he doesn't mess up a real book. Just as direction by Noonan tells you something about the film, the fact that Norman Warne is played by Ewan McGregor should tell you that this character is far from a throwaway himself.
But to best tell the story of how Beatrix got to where she was at this point, Noonan (with Broadway Veteran but first time feature film writer Richard Maltby, Jr.) make quality use of flashback and narration to show us Beatrix as a young lady growing up in London and on her vacations in The Lake District. Through the eyes of Young Beatrix (played at that age by Lucy Boynton) the world comes alive in watercolored pictures and enchantingly animated fantasy sequences. Despite her overbearing mother (Barbara Flynn) and supportive, yet doting father (Bill Paterson), or possibly because of it, Beatrix maintains this child-like outlook on into her adulthood, refuses to marry and considers her characters to be "friends", not mere "creations".
Miss Potter is a very funny film, especially for a Biopic and steps beyond the comedy threshold of the similar Finding Neverland and into the realm of Mrs. Henderson Presents for some all-out guffaws. Much of this works well when Beatrix becomes fast friends with Norman's sister Millie (Emily Watson), a fellow "spinster", who cares almost as much about being "ladylike" as Beatrix does. Further, the Romance is more than cute and manages to be touching in an adult way. However, this remains a PG film and is quite tame in most respects. This makes the realistic sorrow and darkness of the film's second half all the more disconcerting.
Make no mistake, while this may be "safe" for kids, Miss Potter isn't a film aimed towards children. Even the animation takes on a bit of a dark side in a place or two. However, in spite of the tangible pain that this movie portrays, it's safe to admit that this is much more about overcoming life's hurdles than succumbing to them. The very grown-up, yet still sparkle-eyed Beatrix is still around and still surrounded by her friends (including relative late-comer Lloyd Owen's William Heelis).
There are a couple of sequences that are beautiful to see. The opening credits alone show the attention to detail and artistry that informs Noonan's work. The animation by Passion Pictures is wonderful in and of itself, maintaining the watercolor look even when it encroaches on the real world. This it does, especially in one visually entrancing sequence in which Beatrix is surrounded by her torn and crumpled drawings, each having come to life on the floor, commenting in their own visual ways on the state of the artist.
Miss Potter is not to be missed, not her, but the film isn't quite perfect. While it's difficult to force an entire life into 92 minutes (especially when we go from idealistic dreaming ten-year-old to wealthy conservationist in that span), there are moments where a bit too much is glossed over, sacrificing detailed valleys for peaks of importance. The occasional loose end is not tied up and a detailed examination of action versus characterization would certainly lead to a few questions.
On the other hand, many parts of this film that could so easily be flubbed shine instead. A light comedy with romance and heavy drama? Sometimes they work, sometimes they're top heavy. This one works. A serious and realistic movie with cute animated animals that the main character interacts with? It's great! You won't mind. Can Renée Zellweger really play this landmark in English Lit for Kids? She can and she does. Naysayers begone.
Four Stars out of Five for Miss Potter... darned near four and a half. It's a very fine film with worthy laughs and heart-felt drama. It's safe for kids... it's not for kids. It's realistic, it's fantastic. See it, but bring your friends, whether we can see them or not. Now, if you'll excuse me, a Hedgehog has just offered to take me to lunch. I could scarcely refuse... but I shan't be allowing any hugs to be exchanged. Ouch. See you in the next Watercolored Reel.
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My Doctor says I should stop talking about him.
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