Miss Potter (PG)

By Nicholas Barber
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The Independent Culture

For a century, Beatrix Potter has been renowned as the author of moralistic children's books about talking animals, but now, at last, the shocking truth of the drugs, fights and orgies behind the fluffy bunnies can be revealed.

Except that there aren't any. What Miss Potter actually reveals is that Beatrix was a shy lady who liked the countryside and enjoyed painting. There's some effort to present her life story as the proto-feminist struggle of an independent woman who chooses art over marriage, but the obstacles before her aren't anywhere near as great as those which J K Rowling surmounted, and the main reason Potter didn't get married until middle age appears to be her off-putting habit of talking to her drawings as if they were alive.

"Jemima! Stop that," she clucks, and although her illustrations are sometimes charmingly animated, which might seem to justify her one-sided conversations, the film still raises the question of why no one locked her up years before.

Renée Zellweger has long resembled an anthropomorphised woodland creature, so it's fitting that she should have produced Miss Potter and cast herself in the title role. But her English accent and her usual bustling bashfulness make the whole film feel like a Bridget Jones dream sequence. Ewan McGregor is better as the twinkle-eyed publisher who woos her, and Emily Watson is so compelling as McGregor's sister that she and Zellweger should have swapped roles.

It's not a very challenging film. Anyone who's unsure of the theme is catered for by the line: "Why do people turn themselves into something they are not, just so people will marry them?" And viewers who want to know how Potter got interested in the National Trust should listen out for the speech which ends, "And that's how I got interested in the National Trust."

It's fine as syrupy cinematic comfort food, but if you want a meatier narrative, read Peter Rabbit instead.

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