Miss Potter (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie checks out this family movie about the life of Beatrix Potter...
Renee Zellweger stars as Beatrix Potter, a thirty-two year old unmarried woman more interested in drawing and writing stories than marrying the potential suitors her mother lines up for her. The film begins as a publisher accepts her work and she finds her first book edited by Norman Warne (played by Ewan McGregor). Whereas Beatrix’s mother finds her eccentricities troublesome, Norman is drawn to her by his love for her writing and romance blossoms. However, with her parents disapproving of talk of marriage, will the path of love run smoothly for Miss Potter?
Touted as a potential Oscar hopeful long before its release, Miss Potter found itself without many nods at the beginning of this year. That is not to say it is a bad film, instead that the early word did not reflect the final product. It is easy to see how the Academy could have been drawn to this film. If you couple an Oscar-winning lead with British favourites Ewan McGregor and Emily Watson, and add an uplifting script based on a unique woman whose life was tinged with tragedy, you could be forgiven for expecting the end result to clean up in the awards season, but what we have in Miss Potter is something different.
Miss Potter is very much targeted at a family audience and has content that appeals to both parents and children alike. There are funny moments, most notably a montage sequence of Beatrix’s mother introducing her to men she wants her to marry, and there are moments of tragedy but the film never courts controversy and the tone of the sad scenes is lifted with animations of Potter’s creations. She also talks to the characters she draws, which is no doubt designed to draw children into the story whereas the same activity in a more serious dramatic film would result in calls for her to be committed to a mental home.
This is obviously a dream project for Renee Zellweger, who no doubt took a pay cut for this low-budget feature, and she lights up the screen. With its light tone, she can sometimes simper a little too much but this is very much her film and her performance is both complex and compelling. Emily Watson is close to stealing the show in every scene she features in and other actors of note are those who play Beatrix’s chaperone Miss Wiggin and the young Potter. Ewan McGregor sports a fine moustache and the best way I can think to sum up his performance is to ask you to imagine Obi-Wan Kenobi’s cowardly younger brother.
The low budget is not obvious but there are hints at the lack of funds throughout the film. It is very economically paced and most of the action takes place in a small number of sets. The animation sequences are few and far between, which is a shame because an early shot of huge rabbits pulling a carriage promises more than is delivered throughout the rest of the film. A very short scene between Beatrix and Norman in the snow feels out of place and makes me think that either Miss Potter suffered in the editing room or the producer said ‘Give me a scene in the snow to put in the trailer’.
The story is divided into two sections: first in London as Beatrix establishes herself as an author and strives for acceptance by her family; the second based in the Lake District as she seeks to save the community from developers. Her life in the Lake District is only touched on, giving us the essential details, and I would have liked to know more, especially as the landscapes are much more aesthetically pleasing than the streets of London. For this reason, I think the story of Beatrix Potter may have been more appropriately told in a two-part TV mini series rather than a feature film. However, I must recommend Miss Potter as a genuine slice of innocent entertainment for the whole family free of the in-jokes and winking at the camera that have plagued so many ‘family’ films of recent times.
Miss Potter is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic picture, which is welcome because the picture needs to be as wide as possible to truly appreciate the beauty of the Lake District landscapes. The picture quality itself is free from dirt and scratches but it lacks detail and with many scenes bathed in soft lighting, Miss Potter often looks a little fuzzy. There isn’t anything to really take away from the viewing experience but it’s not quite on a par with recent high profile releases.
With a lot of dialogue and a sprinkle of music but not much else, there isn’t too much in Miss Potter to give your surround sound system a work out. What there is here is clear and the dialogue never drowns out the music or vice versa. The movie never tries to impress but the representation here does the job adequately.
‘The Making of Miss Potter’ is the only special feature of note and provides a decent amount of detail about the production of the film. Zellweger and McGregor thankfully feature in the interviews and talk about their characters and their love of Beatrix Potter’s work. We also get a Katie Melua music video and audio description for the visually impaired. The disc opens with some trailers for upcoming Momentum films and an incredibly annoying advert for Maltesers, but I’m pleased to say it’s possible to skip past all of them.
Miss Potter is an enjoyable film with very broad appeal. If you have children, you may be tempted to pick this up to stick in front of the nippers to keep them quiet for an hour and a half but I recommend you sit down and watch it with them. You’ll be glad you did. The DVD itself contains only a making-of documentary so you may want to weigh up whether you want to pick it up at full price if you’re looking for value for money.
Review by Scott McKenzie
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 23rd April 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: The Making of Miss Potter, Katie Melua Music Video
Easter Egg: No
Director: Chris Noonan
Cast: Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Emily Watson, Barbara Flynn, Bill Paterson
Length: 92 minutes
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