“Miss Potter” is a small British film pushed into existence through the passion of its star and executive producer, Rene Zellweger. Renee is an American who has proven her ability to act British – flawlessly – as the flawed Bridget Jones. As Beatrix Potter, author of a series of picture books for children still beloved by all who read them, she is the perfect British heroine, all the more so because her story is true.
At the turn pf the Twentieth Century, when women were suspect in any endeavor, Potter broke the mold with her stories, her art work, and her insistence that both be published without the “better judgment” of the men who ran the publishing industry. In particular, she insisted on the exact colors to be used in the illustrations despite resistance over costs, and she won.
To say that Miss Potter was unconventional is to state the obvious. We watch her grow from a young girl captivated by the creatures she saw on visits to the farm of her parents’ friends to the author she became, and later as a major conservationist who used her royalties to buy up and preserve rural farms from absorption by large conglomerates. We see her struggle against her father’s disapproval until she wins him over by the sheer beauty of her first book. To portray her development in so quiet a format seems so BBC. I happen to love BBC. I happen to love character studies that take a little time to tell their stories. When the drama erupts it has more layers of meaning.
For example, Potter’s very proper romance with the junior publisher who stands in her corner against the senior members of the publishing house builds subtly but ends in tragedy. You see it coming and yet it hits like a sledgehammer, partly because the couple is so quiet, reserved, and sweet about their affections for each other that you root for them to have the proverbial happy ending. The seed of a later romance blooms into the happy ending we had hoped for in the first place, but that ending seems more contented than joyous because the British – by reputation – hold back their joy.
Miss Potter is well acted, with great attention to the details of Beatrix Potter’s two worlds, the reality of life and death in the first part of the 1900’s and the imagination and sense of whimsy that made Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Jeremy Fisher and all the rest come to life for her and generations of readers. It is slow paced, but it needs to be for the more delightful side of irony to show.
The very best part of the DVD version of this film rests among the extras. It is a video version of the song, “The Night You Taught Me How To Dance,” sung by Katie Melua. If you have never experienced the sultry sound of this Russian born British singer, this beautiful ballad is a great place to start. Ewan McGregor sings the song in the film, and its romantic lyrics and sound become the backdrop for the movie. When the end credits roll, Melua takes over with her signature voice and the emotional floodgates open wide. But if you go to the extras and find the video rendition, you will get to watch her perfect face match the song’s bittersweet tone, note for note. It is worth the price of the DVD just to see and hear her – and at this point the only way you will is either on the DVD or the movie soundtrack, because “The Night” is not on any of Katie Melua’s albums.
Out of four I would give Miss Potter three stars, but the song gets four plus.