14 October 2014

Miss Potter (starring Renée Zellweger)

I forget who recommended this movie to me; but recently I’ve found that I very much enjoy film versions of biographies, often (though it pains me to admit it) more so than the print versions. ‘Miss Potter’ was given to me as a gift some months ago and we decided to watch it last night.

I have known of Beatrix Potter since my early childhood, of course; the delightful tales of Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher, Squirrel Nutkin and so many more are part of my heritage and culture. I had several of the books as a child, and read them to my own children years later. The pictures are beautifully drawn by the author, and the stories quirky and light, yet without the condescending controlled vocabulary that hampers so many children’s books these days.

Nevertheless, I knew almost nothing about the author. I had not thought at all about the problems she would have faced as a female author in Victorian times, writing for what was not a well-developed market. These difficulties were clearly presented in the movie: we see Beatrix Potter as a young and highly intelligent woman who lives much of her life in a fantasy world with her animals and stories. She cares nothing for fashion, nor for the upper-class young men presented to her. Instead she is determined to earn her living; to enter what was a man’s world, and get her stories published.

Fortunately for her - and for millions of children subsequently - one publisher decided to accept her first book, 'Peter Rabbit', assuming that it would probably be a flop but with his own reasons. The young man Norman (Ewan McGregor) who worked with Beatrix was, however, as passionate about the book as she was. He treated her as an intelligent equal rather than a fluffy female, and together they produced the books that were to become so famous around the world.

Unsurprisingly there’s a gentle - and sad - love affair; there’s also a lifelong friendship. Underpinning it all is the story of Beatrix’s eventual emancipation from her rather overbearing and controlling mother (Barbara Flynn). There are some lovely cameos of family life that provide, if not humour, at least a lighter side to the story.

Renée Zellweger plays a believable Miss Potter, with a more than passable upper-middle class English accent. She is portrayed as uncertain and awkward in so many ways, yet supremely gifted in her art and storytelling. The other characters mattered less, yet most the cast felt real, and overall we were captivated by this true story.

This DVD is rated PG which seems about right to me; there’s nothing shocking, no violence or nudity, and just one instance of relatively mild language. However some of the subject matter could be a bit disturbing to a sensitive child - and it’s unlikely to be of interest to anyone under the age of about eight or nine.

There’s a ‘Making of...’ documentary as an extra on the DVD, but we found it a bit tedious; it didn’t add anything much to the story.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's DVD Reviews

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