Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Miss Potter (2006)

So are we going with 24-bit colour or 16-bit colour, ma'am?

We remember Beatrix Potter as the author and illustrator of the Petter Rabit books, as well as other children's stories involving the adventures of an entire menagerie of sometimes mischievious but always endearing animals, all dressed in human clothing. It is a little known fact that prior to her publishing career, Ms Potter was an amateur scientist who was the first to painting the appearance of lichens under a microscope, and amongst the first botany scientists to suggest that lichens are formed as a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae - or that she had presented a couple of scientific monographs at the Royal Society. It is also a little known fact that Beatrix Potter became an expert breeder of sheep when she retired to the Lake District after the death of her fiance. I mention all this because you will not learn of these from the Miss Potter movie, which concerns itself with the years between her first Petter Rabbit book to shortly after her move to the Lake District.
More importantly, I mention all this because both director, screenwriter, and Rene Zellweger have managed to form a rather fun and quirky impression of Beatrix Potter in this movie, quite unlike her serious and some say dour self. And what a fun movie it becomes too, as Zellweger plays Beatrix as a loveable eccentric with an almost-permanent crooked smile, silly pinched face, and indeterminable broad accent that makes her look and sound like a younger and taller version of Linda Hunt. Zellweger's Beatrix Potter is somehow both of this world and not of it - a 30something spinster determined to publish her book and willing to get her hands literally (and metaphorically) dirty in the process, as well as a childlike woman who insists the illustrated animals are her friends, has individual names for each of them, and imagines they can come alive (i.e. move and run about) on the page. Now, usually you would either be freaked out, or end up viewing such a person as a curious psychological study ("An iiiiiinteresting person", the doctors will put it. Even most adults in the movie don't quite take her seriously), but with Zellweger portraying Beatrix with such zest, you'll just have to adore her, quirks and all.

Over the course of the movie, audiences will have a chance to look at how Beatrix Potter developed her skill and love for storytelling and illustration during her childhood, while the main story in the movie concerns itself with the straightforward tale of how Beatrix built her career as a children's author, as well as her relationship with her publisher from the company, Norman Wayne (Ewan McGregor), and his freespirited family. This movie would indeed by straightforward and hardly outstanding if not for the playful and eccentric portrayal by Rene Zellweger, the lighthearted and quirky script, but more importantly, the numerous animated sequences that show just how strange and charming Beatrix's imagination can be.

As far as biographical movies go, Miss Potter does tell the most important years of the author's life, is frank about the many quirks of her personality while making them understandable and even sympathetic to modern audiences, and shows a wide range of the author's inner emotions. Even though one suspects Rene Zellweger plays her parts for laughs at times (like her perpetual grin, pinched face and strange accent!), one also suspects that the real Beatrix Potter - not one to conform to the crowds - would have approved of this movie's irreverent and quirky tone.

First published at incinemas on 1 February 2007

No comments: