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

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Everyone wants a happy ending and everyone wants closure but that's not the way life works out.

It Chapter Two (2019)
(SPOILERS) An exercise in stultifying repetitiveness, It Chapter Two does its very best to undo all the goodwill engendered by the previous instalment. It may simply be that adopting a linear approach to the novel’s interweaving timelines has scuppered the sequel’s chances of doing anything the first film hasn’t. Oh, except getting rid of Pennywise for good, which you’d be hard-pressed to discern as substantially different to the CGI-infused confrontation in the first part, Native American ritual aside.

Check it out. I wonder if BJ brought the Bear with him.

Death Proof (2007)
(SPOILERS) In a way, I’m slightly surprised Tarantino didn’t take the opportunity to disown Death Proof, to claim that, as part of Grindhouse, it was no more one of his ten-official-films-and-out than his Four Rooms segment. But that would be to spurn the exploitation genre affectation that has informed everything he’s put his name to since Kill Bill, to a greater or less extent, and also require him to admit that he was wrong, and you won’t find him doing that for anything bar My Best Friend’s Birthday.

That woman, deserves her revenge and… we deserve to die. But then again, so does she.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2  (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’m not sure I can really conclude whether one Kill Bill is better than the other, since I’m essentially with Quentin in his assertion that they’re one film, just cut into two for the purposes of a selling point. I do think Kill Bill: Vol. 2 has the movie’s one actually interesting character, though, and I’m not talking David Carradine’s title role.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
(SPOILERS) It sometimes seems as if Quentin Tarantino – in terms of his actual movies, rather than nearly getting Uma killed in an auto stunt – is the last bastion of can-do-no-wrong on the Internet. Or at very least has the preponderance of its vocal weight behind him. Back when his first two movies proper were coming out, so before online was really a thing, I’d likely have agreed, but by about the time the Kill Bills arrived, I’d have admitted I was having serious pause about him being all he was cracked up to be. Because the Kill Bills aren’t very good, and they’ve rather characterised his hermetically sealed wallowing in obscure media trash and genre cul-de-sacs approach to his art ever since. Sometimes to entertaining effect, sometimes less so, but always ever more entrenching his furrow; as Neil Norman note in his Evening Standard review, “Tarantino has attempted (and largely succeeded) in making a movie whose only reality is that of celluloid”. Extend t…

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
(SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump. And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.