Skip to main content

I don’t imagine them. They’re quite real. They’re my friends.


Miss Potter
(2006)

Things don’t look good from the off for this Beatrix Potter biopic, which comes hot on the trail of another dramatisation of the life of a children’s author (Finding Neverland). Renée Zellweger has already proved adept at an English accent in Bridget Jones, so at least that isn’t issue. But her take on Potter is extremely mannered, and initially highly off-putting (we’re going to be subject to 90 minutes of this?!). No doubt this is exacerbated by my generally finding Zellwegwer an alarming screen presence (the perma-squint being just one of her quirks). These performance choices may have lent accuracy to her rendition of an author with a highly active interior life and a less accomplished social one, but the actress does little to make herself endearing. Which, surely, is the aim of the filmmakers (in contrast, Emily Watson, playing Beatrix’s spinster friend Millie, captures exactly the likeable-but-eccentric tone that Zellweger needed).

That said, Renée isn’t a deal breaker. She is unable to put the kibosh on enjoyment of this very slight tale, which ambles along agreeably but undramatically before being anchored by a touch of tragedy. Potter’s passion for her art and a world of her own creation is announced by the filmmakers in the most unsubtle of ways (she talks to her creations, Peter Rabbit, Jemimah Puddleduck et al; and they, in animated form, respond). It’s the sort of choice that has the veneer of Hollywood at its most twee (“a truly magical world!”) and prescribes the kind of “whacky sensibility” whereby true creatives experience full-blown hallucinations, such are their limitless imaginations (in Los Angeles I’m sure they do, albeit chemically-induced). The other aspect of this that slightly irks (I didn’t out-and-out hate this element, but I felt like an unnecessary attempt to load the deck) is the animation itself; in making Potter’s images more cartoonish, the beauty and texture of the original watercolours is lost.

None of the conflicts established for Potter to overcome (an overbearing mother who dismisses her passion, her remaining unmarried and being outspoken with her views during a period where women’s roles were straightjacketed) are too daunting, one of the reasons the final film is such a gentle affair. If her mother’s (Barbara Flynn) a bit of a ‘mare, dad (Bill Patterson) is essentially an agreeable sort. Ewan McGregor is cast to his strengths as Norman Warne, the guileless publisher who takes a personal interest in Potter (Watson plays his sister).

But, without the loss that befalls her, the film would float off into immateriality; we are treated to repetitive scenes of a disapproving parent, or of Ewan gazing adoringly at each new piece of artwork Potter shows him. There is only so much story to tell, it seems. And, when the dramatic meat arrives, attempts to reflect tragedy through her paintings are particularly unsubtle. Much better are the scenes in her adopted Lake District home(s) as she rediscovers her affinity for the area (a childhood holiday home) and takes an interest in the preservation of the way of life there.

As with any fictionalised telling of the life of a historical figure, there is a fair amount of omission and addition; it would have been nice to have some insight into her illustrations of the natural world, and the accompanying interest shown by the scientific establishment. And her brother Bertram is only seen during childhood flashbacks, although referred to by the adult Beatrix. What befell him?

This was director Chris Noonan’s first film in 11 years (following Babe), and it looks as if the same time may pass before we see anything further. There’s a generous spirit to both of these confections, but Miss Potter lacks Babe’s innocent charm. Which, ironically, makes it a far better companion to the author’s books than the film about her life.

*** 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.