Where was I when Miss Potter was in theatres last year? I don’t recall hearing much about it, and that’s a shame. This is one of the most charming, infectiously light-hearted films I’ve seen in long while.
It’s the story of Beatrix Potter (Renée Zellweger, Chicago), the 19th century British creator of the famous Peter Rabbit children’s stories. When we first meet Beatrix, she’s an unmarried woman in her early thirties, lugging her portfolio of paintings and a story to potential publishers. In meeting with two crusty older gents, it seems she’s not going to have any luck. They flip through her drawings of rabbits dressed in human clothes, while she insists they, the rabbits, are her friends. She must be crazy. Lucky for her, these guys have an annoying younger brother who’s insisting he be allowed into the family publishing business. They decide to give him this “bunny book” to minimize the harm he would surely do to their serious business.
Back at her social-climbing parents’ home, where she lives, Beatrix happily spends time in her room, which appears to be more art studio than bedroom. In flashbacks, we learn about her upbringing with a younger brother, how she’s been drawing for most of her life, and from where the inspiration came for her Peter Rabbit story. All her life, her mother has looked down on her daughter’s “silly drawings,” and has instead pushed for Beatrix to marry an acceptable suitor. Her father, while mostly in agreement with his wife, is more encouraging about the drawings, for he was once an aspiring artist himself. In any case, Beatrix has refused all suitors and decided she’ll never marry.
When Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge), that pesky younger brother of her publishers, shows up, their instant chemistry begins to unravel Beatrix’s insistence on spinsterhood. The pair is united with a common goal, to have her story be a big success – for Norman to show up his brothers, and for Beatrix to prove to her parents that she can become an independent woman.
And so begins a new romance, and the first of many children’s book successes. There’s much more to the story, including some moments of great sorrow, but I’d hate to spoil the whole works, because I’m about to recommend the film to your entire family, young and old. How often can one do this with a movie?
For a historical biopic, Miss Potter may be very much on the lighter side, but as an endearing story of romance and following one’s dreams, it’s note-perfect. It has many strengths, beginning with a superb cast lead by plucky Zellweger. I’m not generally a fan of hers, but I couldn’t help but admire her performance here. She brings Beatrix Potter back to life as a lovable eccentric, and a woman far ahead of her own time. And her onscreen chemistry with McGregor, her publisher turned suitor, is very believable. McGregor’s is a winning performance. He comes across like charming star from Hollywood’s golden age, with a few touches of delightful clumsiness. In a supporting role, Emily Watson shines as Norman’s amusing, unwed sister who becomes Beatrix’s closest friend.
Also strong are Richard Maltby Jr.’s screenplay, which provides a great blend of wit and composure, and Andrew Dunn’s cinematography, which captures the timeless beauty of both lakeside country and scenes in London, providing rich visuals throughout the film.
Perhaps the finest aspect of the film is also the most unique – Beatrix Potter’s drawings and paintings are animated many times, coming to life for her eyes only while she speaks to them, admonishing or commiserating with these creations she calls her friends. It’s a neat touch by the filmmakers, and it really provides a sense of Potter’s creative mind and the incredibly active imagination her timeless children’s tales came from.
Finally, the film is G-rated, which all but guarantees it’s a safe bet for viewers of all ages. Of this I’m glad, because it’s a wonderful film and I’d hate for anyone to miss out on the viewing experience.
So, how’s the DVD?
Miss Potter is presented on one disc, in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Thankfully, the film’s lovely cinematography is well-represented here, with a pristine source and an excellent transfer. Colours are rich, from warm city tones to the vivid countryside, the picture is consistently sharp with plenty of detail throughout, and the transfer is free of artifacts. This is how it should be, since the film is new and DVD is such a well-established format, but it’s still worthy of praise.
English audio is Dolby Digital 5.1. It’s a good mix, with appropriate levels that ensure all dialogue is readily audible, while the film’s orchestral score fills in around you. Effects are minimal, and the overall mix is fairly heavy on the front channels, but that’s to be expected for a film like Miss Potter. As for your sub, it’ll spend much of the film sleeping, up until Potter hits the Quidditch field – oops, wrong story. Still, nothing disappointing about this one.
Audio is also available in French in Dolby Digital 5.1, while subtitles are offered in English, French and Spanish.
Miss Potter offers up a decent amount of bonus material, though I wish they would have included some animated Peter Rabbit stuff. Ah well. Here’s what we do get:
- Audio commentary: by director Chris Noonan (Babe), who does a decent job maintaining interest, and reveals his initial trepidation about taking on this project. Things clicked for him when he decided to approach it as a time-traveling story, about a modern woman living in the olden days.
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter: this piece runs about 20 minutes, and seems to be an older TV production. It’s a bit on the dry side as it covers a biographical tale of Potter and her famous creations, but it’s certainly informative.
- The Making of a Real-Life Fairy Tale: of similar length, this featurette is your usual behind-the-scenes with plenty of interview clips from cast, who discuss their own roles, the director and their fellow actors, and crew, who talk about their approach to the film. Definitely worth a look.
- ”When You Taught Me How To Dance” Music Video: A song from the film, performed by Katie Melua, who’s apparently one of the United Kingdom’s biggest-selling female artists. The video is simple, but Melua fans may appreciate it.
- Theatrical Trailer: the last item on the list, and it’s your usual fare. Completists will be happy, but frankly I have the whole film now, so why do I need the trailer?
Miss Potter is a charming film your whole family could enjoy, and it’s presented here on a solid DVD with strong video and audio. Recommended.