Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Movie Log: Miss Potter

I'm required, by an obscure provision of my vow as a book-blogger, to see as many movies based on writer's lives as possible and blog about them. And, so, Miss Potter came into my life this week.

(Actually, I thought it was a movie The Wife would like to see, and I wouldn't mind much -- and it had been a while since we'd seen something together.)

It's a nice-looking but disappointing movie, which shoehorns Beatrix Potter's life into a very conventional Hollywood love-story with the usual costume-drama Victorian trappings. (The story may in fact be absolutely true -- that Beatrix fell in love with her editor, the ne'er-do-well youngest brother of the family that ran the Frederick Warne publishing house, that her family forbade her to marry him, that he died of some unspecified lung ailment while she was away on holiday, that she bought a farm to get away from her family, and that she eventually married a country solicitor she'd known from childhood -- but Miss Potter makes it so templated and derivative that I could hardly believe any of it.)

There are moments of whimsy and fantasy in this movie, which could have been moving or disturbing in better hands -- Beatrix sees her watercolors move, and her characters are real to her -- but the effect is to make Beatrix seem mentally unstable, if not completely insane. It certainly didn't make me think that she was someone who should be allowed to have control of her own life...or sharp objects, for that matter.

Renee Zellweger does a decent job as Beatrix, though she seems to spend nearly the entire movie squinting -- perhaps someone couldn't quite get her keylight correct? She does allow herself to look rather plain -- not movie-star gorgeous, by any means -- for most of the movie, which was an excellent choice.

Miss Potter has only a bit of the usual author-movie wheeze, where the author's real life is shown to have amazingly detailed parallels to her work (and turning the author from an interestingly creative writer into a mere scribe of real events); but I think this is because even the makers of this movie couldn't quite stomach making the stories of Miss Tiggy-Winkle and Benjamin Bunny real.

I suspect fanatical Potter fans will enjoy this movie better than I did; for me it was a pleasant costume drama that claimed to be true, though I had some trouble swallowing that.

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