| The Red Right Hand
With the success of Marc Forster's Finding Neverland, the seemingly obvious choice for the next biopic is the bestselling children's author of all time. I know some of you are muttering, "JK Rowling?" Thankfully not. For the last century the largest selling author has been Beatrix Potter. As a child I was read the tales of Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Tiggy-winkle and others, so I was well aware of the kind of soft-hearted cautionary enchantment that Miss Potter had a habit of writing. There have been plenty of renditions of the original tales, taking the forms of stage productions, movies and ballets but Potter's life had yet to be examined on film. It's been over a decade since director Chris Noonan has attempted to make a film; his last picture being the rather successful Babe. Luckily for us, his return is on top form, presenting us with a charming tale of polite-mannered British Victorians at their very best. Showing nothing but the rosy cheeks of the middle/upper classes of London and the rolling mountains of the North's Lake District, you may think that this is an extremely tame film but dealing with many important issues, such as a woman's place in 20th Century England, the overwhelming growth of industry and death, Miss Potter is in fact a very powerful and beautiful drama that does complete justice to the quietly bold and eccentric young author. All the quaint elements of the English family are captured neatly as Beatrix rows with her parents over suitors and acceptable gentlemen but the whole time there was something nagging at me, a quiet feeling that everything was a little too convenient, cutesy and beyond the realms of believability - as if resolutions are a little too easily presented.
Ewan McGregor plays Norman Warne, Potter's [Zellweger] novice publisher and first true love. Having made good friends with Warne's sister, Millie [Watson], Beatrix finally finds peace and financial success. The film darts back to her childhood, explaining the origins of her many tales but in a tasteful way that doesn't in any way nauseate the viewer. Miss Potter is one of those unfortunate movies that seem to be so upbeat and merry that to find any fault or flaw in the works is an extreme task in itself. Having said that, this film is far from perfect. Behind the cute set pieces and lovable locations is a feeling that everything seems a little too polished and unreal. The pacing is a minor flaw, as a biopic of this kind has a momentum that needs to build slowly, but one that got to me. I also felt that the lack of an onscreen presence of Bertrum Potter (Beatrix's younger brother) during his adult life was extremely odd. I realise this is the telling of the life of Beatrix, specifically, but since he was such a large element of her childhood, itís just surprising that he's briefly mentioned a handful of times at best. Alongside her constant battle for her parents' approval are the books themselves. There's never a slowing of sales for Miss Potter and she soon becomes exceedingly wealthy. One large contributing factor were the intricate drawings of small farm animals dressed as people, something that has been portrayed perfectly in this piece. Almost every drawing is aided by CGI enhancing and bursts to life at the most random of moments - something that Beatrix Potter actually envisioned when creating her now infamous and beloved characters.
Potter, herself, was an amazing role model. In a time when women were confined to sewing and socials, she not only made a name for herself as a tradeswoman but also as one of the richest women in the country. The first thing she set out to do with her money was to obtain as much land as possible, in the hopes of ensuring its preservation for future generations. This, of course, gave rise to the National Trust. As a child, when I visited Beatrix Potter's cottage, with my family, I was stunned not only by how small it was but by the vast quantity of people flocking to see it. Apparently, the National Trust was so overwhelmed that they had to limit entry to eight hundred people per day. Just to remind you all, this is just a tiny little cottage in the Northern Lakelands but something about its quaint nature and surroundings shows you the setting for the world she created. I have a feeling that this film will not only sell numerous tickets and collections of books but lead to thousands of tourists arriving in the Lake District to see a forgotten rural cottage, home to a remarkable author, feminist and woman - I just wonder what she would say to thousands of litter-throwing, four-by-four driving city-dwellers traipsing through her house every day.
5th January 2007
The Scene To Look Out For:
The only real challenge for Zellweger comes with a death that hits her extremely hard. Locking herself in her room, she desperately attempts to scrawl down new drawings, looking for comfort from her illustrated companions. To her distress, they all begin to scatter and run from the very sight of her. Beginning to panic, she claws through reams of paper, urgently seeking out her characters. It's a very well performed scene with a beautiful combination of artwork and simplistic, complimentary CGI.
With so many perfectly portrayed characters it's difficult to isolate one particular performance; everything culminates so well that it becomes an unbearable task to dissect it. Not only that, but animating the sketches and artwork means that thereís another character present that most wouldn't expect. If I had to pick (and I do) I would have to go with Zellweger; it's the part that suits every aspect of her skills, Potter is eccentric and quaint but must bare an immense sadness that brought a large portion of the audience to tears.
"Bunnies in jackets with brass buttons. However do you imagine such things?"
In A Few Words:
"The film, as a whole, is an extraordinary accomplishment and seems to be the role that Zellweger was born to play - the problem is it's a little bit too twee"