Rene ZellwegerEwan McGregor
In the next few months we are going to be treated to a number of autobiographical films based on well known authors including Becoming Jane (a film about pre-fame Jane Austen). Miss Potter follows the fortunes of Beatrix Potter as she attempts to get her strange little books published and find her own path.
Miss Potter is written by Richard Maltby Jr, best known as a Broadway lyricist and director, his work includes writing lyrics for Miss Saigon and directing ‘Fosse’ and ‘Ain’t Misbehaving’. Not surprising to learn then that Miss Potter was originally conceived as a musical. What we actually have is a peculiar mixture of live action, some animated sequences and a song.
The film follows the fortunes of Beatrix Potter (Rene Zellweger) a spinster, still living with her parents, who succeeds in getting her children’s stories about rabbits, squirrels and other animals published. She is represented by Mr Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor) who, despite his brothers’ scepticism, truly believes in the merit of the stories and helps fight to get them published. Warne and Potter find themselves attracted to one another.
Beatrix faces opposition from her mother (Barbara Flynn) who sees her daughters work as unladylike and unbecoming to someone of their social station. However, she receives support from her father (Bill Patterson), a friend William Heelis (Lloyd Owen) and Norman’s sister, Millie (Emily Watson).
Once again the studios have picked an American to play a quintessentially English role; however, Zellweger does an admirable job, she plays up Potters eccentricities without ever resorting to stereotypes. Furthermore, what is refreshing about this film is it celebrates those who are unconventional. Beatrix talks to her illustrations and Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck and Mrs Tiggywinkle all respond.
Ewan McGregor is a true chameleon, his Norman is shy, uncomfortable and ill at ease; entirely unlike any character he’s played in recent years and yet completely believable, he even manages to sing without making you think of Moulin Rouge. The chemistry between Zellweger and McGregor is very strong; in fact it was Zellweger who sent McGregor the script after enjoying working with him on Down with Love in 2003.
The supporting cast are superb; Barbara Flynn is all disapproval and jealousy and Bill Patterson (sporting extraordinary facial hair) plays glowing paternal pride to perfection. Matyelok Gibbs plays Miss Wiggin, who acts as Miss Potters chaperone, she has very little to say but with every expression and glance manages to radiate disapproval. Emily Watson manages to make her slender frame appear frumpy and uncoordinated and makes the manish Millie the best friend that Beatrix has been searching for.
Part of the problem and joy of this film is the plot; there’s not much of it. What this allows is time for the characters to develop and gives room for the relationships to build up. The film has a short running time of 92 minutes however, at times there is a real problem with pace in this film. The director Chris Noonan, who directed Stepping Out and Babe, is obviously enamoured with the Lake District and we are treated to long, lingering shots of the scenery which last too long and disrupt the flow of the film.
However, this a beautifully shot film full of interesting, if eccentric, characters who you find yourself genuinely caring about. It is a simple story but not the less powerful for its short running time. This is a definite must for all those who love stories that celebrate English eccentricity.