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In 1902, in London, the spinster Beatrix Potter lives with her bourgeois parents. Her snobbish mother, Helen Potter, had introduced several bachelors to Beatrix until she was twenty years old, but she had turned them all down. Beatrix Potter has been drawing animals and making up stories about them since she was a child, but her parents have never recognized her as an artist. One day, Miss Potter offers her stories to a print house, and a rookie publisher, Norman Warne, who is delighted with her tales, publishes her first children's book. This success leads Norman to publish two other books, and Miss Potter meanwhile becomes the best friend of his single sister Millie Warne. Soon Beatrix and Norman fall in love with each other, but Helen does not accept that her daughter would marry a "trader". However, Beatrix's father Rupert Potter proposes that his daughter spend the summer with his wife and him in their country house in Lake District, and if she is still interested in Norman after... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
"Miss Potter," based on the life of Beatrix Potter, the best selling author of children's books of all time, is an enchanting film.
Directed by Chris Noonan ("Babe") and written by Richard Maltby, Jr., whose theatrical background is no doubt the reason the 94-minute film has such a jaunty pace, "Miss Potter" is not a standard biopic in that it has the ability to appeal to pretty much everyone, with the exception of the very young, which I'll get to in a moment.
Opening images of a pair of hands carefully choosing the pencils and brushes that are the tools of the writer/illustrator's craft, paired with a voice-over that tells us that "there is something delicious about writing the first words of a story," reveal Potter's passion for her craft. Her affection for what she calls her "friends" -- the bunnies, frogs and ducks who are the subjects of her tales -- is equally strong. So strong, in fact, that we wonder, as do the two gentlemen who agree to produce her work, if Miss Potter (Rene Zellweger) isn't just a little daft.
This notion is quickly laid to rest, however, when we see the author, escorted by fledgling publisher Norman Warne (a sedately sweet Ewan McGregor), confidently direct the printing of her works, an endeavor not generally expected of single women in 1902 London, and not deemed acceptable by its society.
Among those who find this effort distasteful are Potter's parents (Barbara Flynn and Bill Patterson), a pair of "social climbers" who seek to marry their only daughter to a man of means. That she refuses these overtures is the crux of their often contentious relationship.
In lieu of marriage, Potter immerses herself in her work. As her success blossoms, so does her relationship with her champion, Mr. Warne, who introduces the author to his sister, Millie (Emily Watson), another spinster. The two women develop a palpable bond, based primarily on their like-minded philosophies about life.
Precisely how Potter developed her ideology is never told, but flashbacks to her childhood reveal an independent girl (charmingly played by newcomer Lucy Boynton) with natural storytelling abilities and a love for drawing the small animals she encounters while summering in England's bucolic Lake Country with her family. It is from these experiences that Potter fashioned her famous "Tales of..." series.
In an effort to bring Potter's experiences with the books to life on the screen, Noonan incorporates a series of technically adept animation sequences. These are completely effective in delivering the sweetness of Potter's tales, and they will appeal to even the youngest viewers. But the film offers too few of them to be satisfying. As a result they become a tease, a sort of trailer to get us to buy the books. While there are many reasons to buy and read Potter's books, using a film to get us to do so feels like too much manipulation.
In all other ways this is sound and pleasurable film-making. Performances are what one would expect from so seasoned a cast, with Zellweger bringing her natural cherubic quality to the role of the author. Production design (by Martin Childs), which incorporates a color palette that matches Potter's work, and cinematography by Andrew Dunn ("History Boys," "Mrs. Henderson") are elegant but not ostentatious, and are reminiscent of the look of "Finding Neverland," another film set in turn-of-the-century England.
In the hundred or so years since Beatrix Potter created her venerated children's series, a lot has changed in the world. One thing that hasn't, however, is that we still love a good story, particularly one that warms our hearts and makes us feel good about the world. "Miss Potter" does precisely that.
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