A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Friday, April 23, 2010

On Video: Miss Potter (2006)

My mother-in-law is an artist... quite a good one as a matter of fact. While she hasn't reached the dizzy heights of fame, she has done potraits and participated in competitions. I mention this because it more or less explains why she owns a biopic of Beatrix Potter on DVD when her entire collection of movies can probably be counted on one hand. It also explains how I happened upon this film in recent weeks.

Because Helen Beatrix Potter has become synonymous with children picture books, it is easy to forget that she was an artist of some distinction. Deeply interested in the natural world, she was also a mycologist and a conservationist of some reknown. With the money she made from the sales of her books, she was able to purchase Hill Top farm in the Lake District in England. Later on, she bought surrounding farmland and extended her property gradually with the help of local solicitor, William Heelis, whom she later married.

Potter was the only daughter and older child of Edmund and Helen Potter, both of whom lived on inherited wealth. From all accounts, she had a lonely childhood, filled with pets. Among a host of other creatures, she had two rabbits, one of them was named Peter. With very little human companionship, Potter spent much of her time observing her pets and sketching them. Undoubtedly, providing the basis for her much loved anthropomorphic animal tales.

This film does well in providing a glimpse into the woman behind Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle Duck and Co. In fact, her relationship with her characters are key to the internal workings of Beatrix Potter. Her motherly admonishments of their exploits demonstrates in a poignant fashion how they became the children she never had. That aside, the highest praise that I can give the film is the way it projected authenticity -- in sensibility and story. I was impressed and amused to see the attention to detail given to Potter's life right down to a glum-faced chaperon that accompanied her everywhere especially while in the company of men. Renee Zellweger's Beatrix Potter is an eccentric Victorian negotiating the strictures of her society to gain the respect that she sought.

Much of the dramatic focus of this film is on Beatrix's volatile relationship with her parents. Warding off strong parental objections to her romance with a man not her social equal, Beatrix was briefly engaged to her publisher, Norman Warne. This engagement was cut short and ended tragically due to his untimely death. Depressed by his death, Beatrix moved to Hill Top, where she eventually became an integral figure in the Lake District farming community.
While it was a delightful film, my only quibble was how quickly everything seemed to happen and end. I would like to have seen more of her budding romance with Heelie, who seemed to me a much more interesting romantic interest than Warne.

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