While it may be a G-rated movie and feature a few moments’ worth of cute animated animals, kids will be bored with the quiet drama that is “Miss Potter”. This movie marks the second wonderful pairing of Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, the first being the 2003 romantic comedy “Down with Love”. And although both involve books and romance, the two movies (and characters) are as different as a New York city day to a north country night.
The Miss Potter of the title is Beatrix Potter, author of such well-loved stories as “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and others. And just like her stories, this postcard-pretty film moves at a gentle, sedate pace. It’s so languorous at times one longs for the animated Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck to get into a fur-flying, feather-flapping fight. The movie uses the device of Beatrix interacting with her creations. It’s cute but it’s something that can get old fast. Luckily, director Chris Noonan doesn’t overdo the effect much.
As the film opens, Beatrix is a woman past her prime in the marriage market, eccentric, awkward and strong-willed, the despair of her social climbing mother. Instead of tea and genteel gossip, Beatrix prefers painting, botanical study and writing. How her preferences developed are shown through picturesque snapshots of a rather lonely childhood. There were no other companions save a younger brother and a governess and little joy in her life beyond the summer vacations in the Lake District of England, where the young girl could explore and draw nature to her heart’s delight.
Beatrix is keen to publish her work in book format despite the many rejections she’s received from publishers. The owners of Warne, a publishing house, think this “little book” will be a great project to occupy younger brother Norman (Ewan McGregor). After all, they don’t expect it to sell more than a few copies and presumably arranging the publication and dealing with this somewhat odd young woman will keep Norman out of their hair and their “real” business of publishing.
But shy awkward Norman has more of a business sense than his brothers suspect. He and Beatrix hit it off quickly. When Norman introduces Beatrix to his brash and forward-thinking sister Millie, a dynamic trio is formed. And soon, romance is blooming too. Remember, this is a G-rated film so the height of passion in this staid Victorian movie is pretty much a waltz at a Christmas party and a few discreetly restrained love letters.
Alas, the high-falutin’ Potters disapprove of their daughter’s engagement to a “tradesman”. They persuade her to keep the engagement a secret for the summer and then, if she’s still inclined, to marry in the fall. Beatrix reluctantly agrees and, along with her parents, visits the Lake District, the familiar vacation haunt since childhood. However tragedy strikes and Beatrix’s plans for a happy life away from her restrictive parents appear doomed.
But she does get away after discovering just how wealthy she is.(Odd she had no clue before.) Beatrix buys her own home in the Lake District, becoming her own woman at last. She also begins buying up farmland to preserve it as is, land that ordinarily would have gone to developers. Eventually she even marries, at the ripe old age of 47.
If you’ve seen the trailer for “Miss Potter”, you may think it is more of a romance than it really is. Even the poster of Renée and Ewan, bathed in a soft glow, gives that impression. It’s a mistaken one. Yes, it is a love story but it’s not entirely about two awkward people who found each other. It’s also about a love affair with land and nature, which Beatrix Potter surely had. When she died, she not only left a literary legacy as one of the best-selling children’s authors of all time. She also left 4,000 acres of land to the British people through a preservation trust.
“Miss Potter” is available on DVD. Extras include a director’s commentary, a music video, theatrical trailer and other features.