Miss Potter turned out to be a two tissue film - that's how many I got through owing to crying at the plot. No, the plot wasn't that bad - it was the sad moments: such as Beatrix arriving at the Warne home, the day after her fiance Norman Warne has been buried...
I'm not a huge fan of Beatrix Potter's books - possibly because I came to them too late (I was in my 20s before I first read them, to a young charge whom I was babysitting), but I read Margaret Lane's biography some time ago so I know the essentials of the story. I thought this movie got most of them right. The film follows the fortunes of Beatrix (Renee Zellweger), who is still living with her parents, when she succeeds in getting her children's stories about rabbits, mice, a duck, and other animals published. She is represented by Mr Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor) who, despite the scepticism of his brothers', truly believes in the merit of the stories and actually dares to argue with Beatrix over whether the illustrations should be done in black and white or colour: she says black and white as small rabbits can't afford books with colour illustrations, he says colour, but if they cut down the number of illustrations to just 31, they can all be printed on one sheet of paper, thereby reducing the cost *and* allowing the reader to see Peter's famous blue jacket. Warne and Potter find themselves attracted to one another and he proposes at her parents' Christmas party. However, Beatrix faces opposition from her mother (Barbara Flynn) who sees her daughter's work as unladylike and unbecoming to someone of their social station (she complains that Norman is a "tradesman", but that earns short shrift from Beatrix, who points out that their money is founded on the "cotton trade". She does receive some support from her father (Bill Patterson) and in the end, she comes to a compromise with her parents - she will secretly become engaged to Norman, but his family must not be told and she will go to the Lake District with them for their annual 3 month trip and not see Norman during that period; if she still felt the same about Norman after that time, then they could marry. Unfortunately, Norman develops a bad cough and by the time that Beatrix learns that he's seriously ill and heads to London, he has already succumbed and had been buried the day before. Since their engagement was secret, there was no chance of the funeral being put off until Beatrix managed to arrive. Betarix remains in London, rather than returning to the Lake District, and tries to draw but none of her drawings turn out as she intends.
Eventually, Norman's sister Mille (Emily Watson), in whom Beatrix had confided about the marraige proposal, visits and persuades Beatrix to get out of the house and start living again. She decides to use some of the money she has earned from her "little books" to buy Hill Top Farm, in the Lake District, in order to preserve it from the developers' and she moves in. She is helped in her property buying (Hill Top is just the first of many farms that Beatrix buys) by William Heelis, a country solicitor whom she knew when she was a child and he was a young man. And after a few years, she marries him and becomes a successful farmer and land owner, as well as a successful author and illustrator.
It's interesting that the studio picked an American to play a quintessentially English role; but, Zellweger does a good job, I felt. She portrays Beatrix Potter's eccentricities without ever resorting to stereotypes and it celebrates those who are unconventional. Beatrix talks to her illustrations and Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck and Mrs Tiggywinkle all respond (thanks to the magic of animation). Ewan McGregor is an interesting choice for Norman Warne - he is shy, uncomfortable and ill at ease, entirely unlike any character McGregor has played in the last few years and yet he is completely believable, he even manages to sing ! The chemistry between Zellweger and McGregor is very strong, and it was actually Zellweger who sent McGregor the script after she enjoyed working with him on Down with Love in 2003.
The supporting cast in this film are wonderful; Barbara Flynn is full of disapproval and jealousy (it's ages since I saw her in anything but I'm delighted to see she's as much fun to watch as she ever was !), and Bill Patterson plays the role of glowing paternal pride to perfection (I loved his line about Beatrix being famous and everyone but her mother knowing it !) Emily Watson, who had given birth four months before filming began, decided to "play [her] role plump" (according to a radio interview I heard on Sunday night) and makes the manish Millie quite believable.
This is a beautifully shot film (the Lake District is gorgeous and somewhere I really want to visit again), full of interesting, if eccentric, characters whom I found myself genuinely caring about (hence the two tissues !). I recommend it.
* * * * * *
Another biopic I want to see (thanks to the trailer) is Becoming Jane - a film about Jane Austen starring Ann Hathaway as Jane Austen, James Cromwell as Jane's father, Julie Walters as her mother, and the redoubtable Dame Maggie Smith as Mrs Gresham (who is also disapproving of a young woman who writes !) It's out here in early March (and with Charlotte's Web out in early February, I could get into the cinema habit !).