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Miss Potter (8/10)

by Tony Medley

One of the many disappointing films I’ve seen since I’ve been a critic was a turkey called “Down With Love” (2003), starring Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. McGregor gave a particularly ineffective performance in the film.

Tonight I went to see “Miss Potter,” starring the same Zellweger and McGregor, and came away totally enchanted. A biopic of Miss Beatrix Potter (Zellweger), McGregor plays Norman Warne, who is a beginning publisher. Beatrix falls for Norman, but her family, especially her mother, Helen (Barbara Flynn), is violently opposed, mainly because she thinks they are upper crust and he is a tradesman.

What is wonderful about this film is the dialogue (Richard Maltby, Jr.) and the way that everyone treats everyone with such respect, all the while standing up for what each thinks is right. Beatrix calls him “Mr. Warne,” and he calls her “Miss Potter” all the while they are falling in love.

For the first 45 minutes or so the film jumps back and forth between Beatrix as a grown woman and as a child (Lucy Boynton, who gives a charming performance). Occasionally her drawings of rabbits and such come to life and she talks to them. As she falls in love with Norman, she also befriends Norman’s sister, Millie Warne (Emily Watson, who also gives a terrific performance), who becomes a confidante.

The charm of this picture, expertly directed by Chris Noonan, is the way it captures the world of manners of turn-of-the-20th century London. Beatrix is of a certain class, at least her mother thinks so, and, as such, a tradesman such as Norman is not an appropriate husband. But the way they speak with one another is, oh, so proper.

Adding immeasurably to the charm of this movie is the cinematography (Andrew Dunn and Chris Seager as D.P.), the production design (Martin Childs), the Art Direction (Grant Armstrong and Mark Raggett), and the Set Direction (Tina Jones). All combine to capture the world in which Beatrix dwelled and created such classic children’s books as “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”

The books made Beatrix enormously wealthy and she used her wealth to purchase thousands of acres in The Lake District, keeping it from development, leaving it all to The National Trust, thereby preserving a beautiful part of the English countryside.

Zellweger is so perfectly cast she seems to have been born for this role. This is a highly entertaining family, PG-rated film that contains nothing objectionable while showing life as wonderful as it can be.

December 26, 2006