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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Chris Noonan|
scr Richard Maltby Jr
with Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Emily Watson, Lloyd Owen, Bill Paterson, Barbara Flynn, Matyelok Gibbs, Jane How, Richard Mulholland, Anton Lesser, Lucy Boynton, Justin McDonald
release US 29.Dec.06, UK 5.Jan.07
06/UK Momentum 1h32
Fine tuning: McGregor and Zellweger
Beatrix Potter's complicated life is turned into a smiley little tale, complete with animated glimpses of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck and friends. Only a couple of good performances manage to reflect the real difficulties and tragedy she endured.
In 1902 London, being a 32-year-old single woman was scandalous. But Beatrix (Zellweger) just gets on with life, making up stories, drawing pictures and not worrying about seeking a suitable husband. When she finds a publisher in Norman Warne (McGregor), even her parents (Paterson and Flynn) don't realise that she might actually become successful. Which she of course does, beyond anyone's wildest dreams. In Norman she also finds a soulmate, and in his sister Millie (Watson) a lifelong friend. But the cruel hand of her parents--and of fate--will change her life forever.
This film didn't need to be dour or dark; Potter's story is overwhelmingly uplifting anyway, as she champions female independence and pioneers the preservation of both heritage and the environment. But the filmmakers felt the need to water down her story for some reason. And the result is so cheerful that it's a little disturbing. Even her parents' hypocritical Victorian nastiness is almost adorable, in a terribly English stiff-upper-lip sort of way.
Poor Zellweger barely gets the chance to do anything besides grin and smirk, and occasionally furrow her brow or grimace into a gloved hand. So it's not surprising that Watson commands the screen with a performance that's both subtler and more outrageous, capturing the true spark of an artistic, strong woman at a time when neither trait was encouraged. Meanwhile, McGregor is charm personified, with a couple of startlingly potent scenes.
Potter's experiences are provocative, involving and even inspirational. So it's a shame that this film turns her difficult, edgy life into a heartwarming little fable. Much of this feels half-hearted (such as the clichéd montage of unsuitable suitors), and there's far too much effort to put a positive spin on unspeakable sadness, while being overly precious about everything from the storybook characters to the places she lived. It's worthy and beautifully produced, but it feels like a fantasy rather than the truth.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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