© 2007 Ray Wong
Every parent has told Beatrix Potter's stories, and every child loves them. Miss Potter is a sweet and good-natured biopic about the sweat and good-natured author.
Beatrix Potter (Zellweger) has been drawing and telling stories about her "animal friends" since she was a child (Lucy Boynton). When she takes her stories to publishers Harold (Lesser) and Fruing (Bamber) Warne, they reluctantly agrees to publish her "little book" so that their youngest brother, Norman (McGregor) would have something to do.
Norman and Beatrix hit it off immediately, what with their mutual admiration and enthusiasm. Despite skepticism, her Peter Rabbit book is a success that launches even more stories. Beatrix's mother, Helen (Flynn) disapproves of Beatrix's "career" and would rather her marry off to a "suitable" man. At 32, Beatrix has vowed not to marry, much to her mother's dismay.
Everything changes when Norman and Beatrix fall in love. When Norman proposes to Beatrix, her parents object vehemently. Beatrix defies her parents but agrees to their terms to wait until after the summer, knowing that neither Norman nor her would change their minds. Then everything changes again and Beatrix realizes her life is like her stories -- once they start, she doesn't know where they will lead her...
Renée Zellweger (Cinderella Man) and Ewan McGregor (The Island) reunite after the lukewarm retro-screwball comedy Down with Love. Here, Zellweger is perfect as Miss Potter, a sweet but strong-willed woman who knows what she wants to do. It's always a delight to listen to the native Texan speak with a British tongue. It helps that she and McGregor have tremendous chemistry together. He is remarkably gentle, likable, and ernest as well. Perhaps their characters are somewhat too "perfect" but perfect people do exist, I suppose.
The cast, for the most part, is delightful. Emily Watson (Separate Lies) is affecting as Norman's doting spinster of a sister. She makes a good "third-wheel." Veteran TV actress Barbara Flynn (Cracker) is good as Beatrix's demanding mother, and Bill Paterson (Amazing Grace) is graceful as her good-natured and supportive husband. Matyelok Gibbs (Babel) has a speechless yet amusing role as Miss Wiggin, a housekeeper who inspires one of Beatrix's books. Finally, Lloyd Owen (The Seasons Alter) is dashing as the young solicitor who becomes a very important figure in Beatrix's life.
First-time screenwriter Richard Maltby Jr. has adhered to a family-friendly structure in telling Beatrix Potter's life story. There are no grand conflicts or good vs. evil plot and climaxes. The theme is very clear: it's life. It's refreshing to see a story with no real villains. Maltby's script is crisp but sentimental and conventional. There's nothing risky here, so sometimes it feels a little too old-fashioned. At the same time, the story and the characters are charming enough to hold our interest. The first two acts are particularly lovely and heart-warming. The last act, however, falls somewhat flat as there is no clear plot movement or a definitive ending -- it just somehow lingers, like a sweet memory.
Director Chris Noonan (Babe) returns after a long hiatus and his effort pays off. Miss Potter is exquisitely charming, warm and fuzzy, much like his claim of fame: Babe. Noonan has a knack of capturing the essence of well-meaning characters, affecting relationships, and gorgeous country vistas. The cinematography is lovely. The animation is cute, showing Beatrix Potter's imaginative mind wonderfully. The pacing is solid. All in all, much like her wonderful children books, Miss Potter is a charming story that the whole family can enjoy.
Stars: Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Emily Watson, Barbara Flynn, Bill Paterson, Matyelok Gibbs, Lloyd Owen, Anton Lesser, David Bamber
Director: Chris Noonan
Writer: Richard Maltby Jr.
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language
Running Time: 92 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.2 out of 10