Directed by Chris Noonan
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 93 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French
Subtitles: EHD, Spanish
Release Date: June 19, 2007
Review Date: June 19, 2007
The life of children’s author Beatrix Potter was notable for the polite refinements of its period, the Victorian Age. In it, young ladies of class went nowhere unescorted, ladies and gentlemen called each other by the appellations of “Miss” and “Mister,” and for ladies at least, a career was much less highly regarded than making a suitable matrimonial match to someone of equal or better station. Beatrix Potter with a much more modern day point of view strove for a career first with no thoughts to marriage. As love came into her life almost accidentally, it seemed like a delightful bonus life offered her rather than something she actively pursued. Chris Noonan’s quiet, thoughtful, and insightful look into a year or two of Beatrix’s Potter’s life when she first tasted both success and love are the focal points of Miss Potter. Like Finding Neverland from 2004, Miss Potter combines some elements of fantasy with a real-life story (though there are some fictionalized elements of the real-life story, too, as there are in most biographical pictures.) It’s a delightful, sweetly nostalgic lark of a movie.
Having played the very British Bridget Jones in two successful films, Renee Zellweger was obvious star casting as Beatrix Potter. Her age and delicate manner are perfect for the role of the determined children’s author and illustrator, and she does some very efficient acting as the talented, dreamy heroine. Ewan McGregor, whom she co-starred with in the quite different Down with Love three years ago, plays publisher and later fiancé Norman Warne. McGregor’s presence is a tonic to the film, and the two play with a much more natural and palatable chemistry here than they did in their previous film together. Their professional and later personal relationship is the film’s most interesting aspect, especially since Beatrix’s mother Helen (played with snooty indifference by Barbara Flynn) is so haughty to him and so distinctly negative with her daughter. We are constantly rooting for Beatrix to be successful and leave that house so she can really begin to live her own life.
Helen Potter’s distasteful social climbing airs are made even clearer though several flashbacks to Beatrix at age ten, but sadly, the casting director has not found a young actress who’s at all believable as a younger version of Renee Zellweger, an actress with a very unique look. The child actress Lucy Boyton does excellent work, but it took me right out of the film trying to rationalize her looks as a child with her later self. However, also doing sterling jobs in supporting roles are Emily Watson as Norman’s loving sister Millie, Bill Paterson as Beatrix’s devoted father, and Lloyd Owen as real estate salesman William Heelis who also figures both professionally and personally with Beatrix.
Noonan’s direction of Richard Maltby, Jr.’s script is light and airy, perfect for the lighter-than-air stories that made Beatrix a very wealthy woman. And some clever but subtle animation has been sprinkled throughout the film adding further qualities of whimsy to the presentation. Noonan’s deft handling of the endearing film Babe showed how clearly he can mix comedy, drama, and fantasy with a sure hand. Add the outstanding costume work of Anthony Powell and marvelous period cinematography by Andrew Dunn (the vast panoramas of the Lake Country are stunning in their majesty), and Miss Potter emerges as an understated but most winning film biography.
The film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio is presented with anamorphic enhancement on this DVD release. The color palette has been toned down somewhat in the “modern” scenes of the film while it becomes more saturated and striking in the flashback sequences. Clips in the featurettes and the theatrical trailer show a more vibrant look to the film than the DVD exhibits. The film is above average in sharpness, but black levels are only fair. There are no artifacts with the presentation, and no edge enhancement was noticed. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is full and rich. Though the movie is strong on talk and is not one that requires constant sounds in all channels, the entire sound field is used when necessary even if only for subtle effects. There are no audio artifacts to spoil the sound presentation on the DVD.
The DVD offers a nice array of bonus features. First up is an audio commentary by director Chris Noonan. He speaks in glowing terms of his actors and his crew and tells of his journey to the film as it was not his project originally nor was Renee Zellweger the first actress signed for the part. There are quite a few lengthy gaps in the commentary track, but what he has to say makes for interesting listening.
A 19½ -minute featurette The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter gives a complete overview of the life of the world famous author and illustrator using family photographs and visits to her homes in London and Hill Top. Since the film covers only a small portion of her life and nothing past her early 30s (apart from some title cards at the end), this is a very welcome documentary. It’s presented in 4:3 format.
A very generous 22 minutes is given over to a “making of” documentary on the film. Featuring interviews with all of the stars, the director, the production designer, and the costume designer, it’s a fairly complete overview on the important aspects of getting this story put on film. It’s in non-anamorphic widescreen.
One of the loveliest moments in the film is Ewan McGregor’s tender singing of “Let Me Teach You How to Dance” as he takes Renee Zellweger’s Beatrix in his arms and waltzes with her as their love begins to blossom. Singer Katie Melua presents a 3-minute music video presentation of the song in non-anamorphic widescreen. She also sings the song over the closing credits.
The film’s 2-minute theatrical trailer is also presented in non-anamorphic widescreen on this DVD.
Miss Potter offers us a view of a surprisingly modern woman in the Victorian era and her small travails to live her life her way. In its own temperate manner, the film provides us a look at a quiet, talented woman whose life continues to make a difference to many people more than half a century after her death. It’s an exquisite, evocative valentine to a most accomplished lady decidedly worthy of this celebratory work.