DVD Review: Miss Potter
Release Date: June 19, 2007
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
· Chris Noonan
· Renee Zellweger
· Ewan McGregor
· Bill Paterson
· Barbara Flynn
· Emily Watson
· IMDb: Miss Potter
by R.J. Carter
Published: June 19, 2007
Renee Zellweger channels Victorian author Beatrix Potter in this romantic biopic that contains enough elements of magical whimsy to make it a standout piece of film. The film picks up with Potter presenting her paintings and manuscript for The Tale of Peter Rabbit to the Warne brothers for publication. Much to her surprise, they (albeit not without reluctance) agree to publish the book. What Potter doesn't realize at the time, however, is that the Warne's have taken the project so as to give their younger brother, Norman (Ewan McGregor), a project with which to play. Norman has been eager to get into the family business and begin earning his keep, but his brothers would rather he stay home and nursemaid their aging mother.
Norman takes on the project with enthusiasm and optimism, allowing Beatrix to be a part of the process all throughout. Their relationship is appalling to Beatrix's mother, Helen (Barbara Flynn), who can't abide the idea of her daughter being in the company of tradesmen. But Beatrix is something of a modern woman born into the wrong era, and enjoys doing things for herself rather than to rely on the traditional demands society places upon women. Having already affirmed that she will never marry after her parents have trotted out an array of most unsuitable suitors, Beatrix finds herself falling in love with Norman, and he with her.
When the book is finally published, Beatrix believes that she has accomplished her goal. But Norman convinces her to write further books, thus extending their working relationship into the indefinite future. As they spend more time together, Beatrix becomes good friends with Norman's sister, Millie (Emily Watson), herself having vowed not to marry and rely upon a man. When Norman finally proposes to Beatrix at a Christmas party, Beatrix quickly confides with Millie, worried that if she were to accept that she might lose Millie's friendship. However, much to Beatrix's surprise, Millie urges her to accept the proposal, and as quickly as possible.
However, accepting the proposal isn't quite so simple, as Mr. Potter (Bill Paterson) refuses to bless the union. Beatrix is quite upset with this, arguing with her parents that their own fortune is based upon inheriting the labors of their tradespeople grandparents, and accusing her own family of being parvenue -- social climbers. The argument prompts Beatrix to inquire about her royalties, to see if she could perhaps buy a small house and sever herself from reliance upon her parents. To her shock, the income is sizable and regular -- enough to afford an estate, with no financial worries for the rest of her life. Eventually, Beatrix ends up saving a working farm from being purchased by land developers, earning even more scorn from her mother, who still hasn't quite accepted the reality that her daughter actually has means to afford her purchases. "Our daughter is famous, Helen," Mr. Potter tells her. "You're the only person who doesn't know it."
Starcrossed. Beatrix and Norman share a farewell.
(L-R: Zellweger, McGregor)
The story doesn't follow a linear path to its overall objective -- that being, the salvation of several farms in the Lake District from being converted into developed properties. And while the bulk of the film focuses on the romantic relationship between Beatrix Potter and Norman Warne, the very DVD cover itself belies that destiny had other ideas.
The film also includes several scenes that convey the imaginative mind of Miss Potter. We see her often talking to her drawings, which take on an animated life of their own on the page. This is used to great effect when, at a time of grief and tragedy, we see her at work in her studio surrounded by crumpled and discarded drawings, all teeming with chaos. However, seeing Potter interact with her artwork sometimes creates too much of a disconnect from reality; one wonders why those who saw her behave in such a fashion didn't worry for her sanity. Of course, this entire behavioral set could very well just be the brainchild of the screenwriters.
Bonus features on this set include a feature commentary track with director Chris Noonan, who is also interviewed in the twenty-two minute featurette, "The Making of a Real-Life Fairy Tale". In the feature, Noonan declares the story of Beatrix Potter is very much that of a modern woman plunked into the middle of Victorian England. McGregor and Zellweger are also interviewed, and we learn that not only did Zellweger take art classes so as to best appear to be knowledgable in the studio scenes, but that she also never broke character -- even during breaks! There are clips of Zellweger asking directions from the director and crew in between scenes, still very much speaking with the accent she affected for Potter.
Also on the disc is a twenty minute documentary, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter". This biography is a much more prosaic presentation of Potter's biography, including several old photographs and readings from letters.
Capping off the bonus features is a music video performed by Katie Melua. "When You Taught Me How To Dance" is the repeated musical theme that underscores the romantic moments between Beatrix and Rupert, and Melua delivers it in the classical vocal style which has been the hallmark of her career. The video is a mixture of concert and studio clips, with some bits of the feature film tossed in for good measure.
Audio is available in English or French, with subtitling available in English and Spanish. (I never get why they do that.)
Previews on this disc include "Penelope", "The Nanny Diaries", "The Mistress of Spices", "Love Wrecked", and "Arthur and the Invisibles".