The newly released DVD, Miss Potter, is a superb period-piece with a sterling lead performance by Renee Zellweger as the famous Beatrix Potter, the best-selling children’s author of all-time. I confess I actually like most period-piece movies, especially nineteenth century Victorian ones, and many younger people do not. Maybe it really is a generational thing, I’m not sure. It could also be my love of English culture, custom and literature. But this movie, regardless of your perspective, reveals Beatrix Potter as a sheltered but courageous woman who authored dozens of children’s books, including the children’s classic, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit."
I do confess that I feel pity for every person who did not grow up hearing the story of Flopsie, Mopsie, Cottontail and Peter Rabbit. And Mr. MacGregor’s garden was quite a place for a misbehaving rabbit. Beatrix Potter’s imaginative abilities were astounding and the real story of this marvelous film is how this imagination was rooted in her real life story. Potter was born into English affluence in a time when women had few rights. She did not go to school, as did her younger brother, because women did not go to school in late 19th century in Britain. She was tutored by a governess in a kind of wealthy "home school" setting. Her father adored her but her mother protected her. Still living at home in her early 30s she sought a publisher for what became her great classic book about the story of Peter Rabbit, a story she imagined while playing with real rabbits and drawing sketches of them in her childhood. Her publisher assigned the youngest of his three brothers to deal with her work, thinking it might sell only a few copies. (What do publishers know anyway?) This younger brother, who had never worked in the publishing industry, had great instincts and insisted on presenting Potter’s work in the right way. Peter Rabbit became an instant hit and Potter became a wealthy unmarried woman. In the process she also fell in love with her publisher-friend, Ewan McGregor. I will not say more about this romance, lest I spoil the movie for you, but it is presented very well.
The Chicago Tribune film critic, in today’s review section on newly released DVD’s, calls the performance of Zellweger and McGregor "nice" but says the movie itself is "a bit of a snooze." If you are looking for non-stop action then rent a Rambo film this weekend. If you want to grapple with a moving story, and would like to get to know an amazing lady who was far ahead of her time, then rent Miss Potter. It is a charming and deeply romantic film that may just delight you as it did me.