The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Miss Potter

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Jacqueline Monahan This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Miss Potter

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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If Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle Duck were on the red carpet and someone asked them “who” they were wearing, the answer would be vintage Potter.

Miss Potter is based on the life of children’s author and artist, Beatrix Potter. Aside from some minor liberties taken with chronological dates, the events of Miss Potter’s life are recounted as they occurred, with a little fantasy mixed in.

Beatrix’s little painted animal creations are her friends and they commune with her, coming to life both on the page and off. There is a charming fantasy world within Beatrix’s real one. We want to see the magic with her and often do. Imaginative animated intervals serve to illustrate the creative process.

Childhood flashbacks show us where her talent began – the Lake District of England, on the family’s yearly visits. There, exploring the acreage with her brother Bertram, and sketching the abundant wildlife, she hones both her imagination and her artistic skill. Her father encourages her work. Her mother disapproves.

Back to the present, 1902, London. Miss Potter (Renee Zellweger) is 32 years old and living with her parents. A chaperone escorts her everywhere, a continual shadow. She has just sold the rights to her first book, after several attempts and numerous rejections. Her mother disapproves. She has befriended her publisher, Mr. Norman Warne, (Ewan McGregor) and his sister Millie (Emily Watson). Her mother disapproves. “Trades people bring dust into the house,” she sniffs, conveniently forgetting where her family’s background and wealth originated.

Mr. Warne and Miss Potter gradually admit feelings for one another. They even get to call each other by their first names…once. Mr. Warne proposes. Her mother disapproves. The engagement is on, although keep in mind that the setting is pre-penicillin London.

This film is a wondrous look at one woman’s creativity sparked by a lifelong love of nature. Renee Zellweger does a skillful job in portraying the ever so proper yet unconventional Miss Potter. Gorgeous cinematography of the English countryside and whimsical animation sequences will charm the viewer and coax them into Miss Potter’s world.

The glimpse of life in Edwardian England is a vast cultural contrast to the present day state of affairs. Societal rules kept women literally corseted and bound as did the distinct separation of social classes. Hypocrisy lurked under propriety’s ruffled skirt. A woman’s only hope of success hinged on marrying well, and even then they had no assurance of happiness, only the appearance of it. Miss Potter defined her success the same way men did, with financial independence, and the film shows us the cages that she rattled along the way. One of them was her very own, marked Parental Control.

Excellent casting lends an authenticity to the film’s historical period. As her parents, Helen and Rupert Potter, (Barbara Flynn and Bill Paterson) bring credibility to their roles as they impeccably represent the upper class of the time. The character of Helen Potter is especially rooted in the social strata and stigma of her time. Ewan McGregor, as Mr. Warne, is earnestness in a suit. His enthusiasm for Miss Potter’s work evolves into enthusiasm for Miss Potter, and we are happy for both of them. Emily Watson, who champions spinsterhood as Warne’s sister Millie, is glad she found a kindred spirit in Beatrix. All bets are off if one of them gets a man, however. It’s apparent, more than a century later that some things never change.

Chris Noonan (Babe) has proven that he is comfortable with animals as characters and his fondness for them is apparent here. He intertwines them effortlessly into the story, while capturing the feel of the period through lush interiors and vibrant exteriors. He’s produced a very visual film, yet it’s one that’s largely made up of dialogue, no small feat. Even in claustrophobic rooms, there are rich details to add to the period’s authentic ambiance.

Miss Potter is a feminist tale, or at least the story we are shown is at the part of her life that comes closest to a liberation of sorts. How dare she not need a man, become self-sufficient, own property!? Doesn’t she know her place? Although continually told her place, Ms. Potter, finding no comfort in convention, created a much more sensible world of her own; one where ducks wear bonnets, bunnies wear waistcoats, and women overcome stifling restrictions on the road to self-determination.

Her mother may have disapproved, but you won’t.