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Miss Potter (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Starring Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Emily Watson, Barbara Flynn, Phil Paterson, Matyelock Gibbs, Lloyd Owen, Anton Lesser, David Bamber, Patricia Kerrigan, Judith Barker, Chris Middleton, Lucy Boynton, Oliver Jenkins, Richard Mulholland and Phyllida Law.

Screenplay by Richard Maltby, Jr.

Directed by Chris Noonan.

Distributed by The Weinstein Company. 93 minutes. Rated PG.

If you are tired of all the sex and violence and depravities of modern cinema, you are not likely to find a less offensive film than Miss Potter.

Miss Potter is all about love, manners, British ingenuity, imagination, striving for your dreams, fuzzy bunnies, pleasing children (though for a film about a woman who makes a living writing for children you really don't get to see her actually interacting with kids) and family values. It's all sturdy and dramatic and charming and not just a little bit twee. One person's sweetness is another person's saccharine, after all.

Miss Potter is famed Brit authoress Beatrix Potter, a sweet woman who lives in a fantasy world - one she was finally able to capture on paper with The Tales of Peter Rabbit and a series of best-selling children's books.

As portrayed by Renee Zellweger, Beatrix Potter seems a smart, confident, imaginative and vaguely odd spinster. She was born of rich parents but can't stand the class system that rules their world. She can't differentiate between her characters and her friends and often in the film her drawings come to life. This is well done and sweet looking in the style of Potter's own paintings - though it can get a little cutesy sometimes.

Of course, the slight problem is that you can't quite decide whether Beatrix is a wonderful eccentric with an overactive imagination or if she is completely bonkers. Probably a little bit of both, for as Miss Potter shows imagination and belief is more important to the artistic process than hard work.

When Potter goes to a publisher to try to get them to release her books and drawings, the publishers agree - specifically because they are certain that the story will go nowhere and they need a dead-in-the-water project to occupy the time of their younger brother (Ewan McGregor), who is just joining the family business.

As they start working together, they become friends and (rather suddenly, honestly) realize they are in love. (Though this is all courtly love, they never share more than banter and one kiss through most of the running time.) As their relationship progresses, Beatrix' work is sort of shuffled off to the side as far as the film is concerned - which was not a wise choice on the part of the filmmakers.

In the long run, Miss Potter is a very sweet and charming movie. Problem is, it works so hard showing its characters downplaying and politely dealing with their passions that it's nearly impossible to have more than a polite and measured reaction to any of their triumphs and losses. These people are so repressed that even after she agrees to marry her publisher, they still refer to each other as "Miss Potter" and "Mr. Warne" in casual conversation (or as casual as any conversation is in this film.) Maybe that really was the way life was back then, but it feels weird and uncomfortable now. Even when characters become passionate, raise their voices and fight, it is all done in a very civilized manner.

Miss Potter takes a rather melodramatic turn towards the end, and while it is all done with the gravitas of Masterpiece Theater or a Merchant/Ivory film it feels rather perfunctory. It appears that Beatrix Potter's imagination was more interesting than her real life and this film would have been even more interesting if the writer had recognized that and capitalized on it.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: June 15, 2007.

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