[Screen It]

(2006) (Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor) (PG)

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Drama: An unmarried woman must overcome various obstacles as she tries to get her children's books published, only to end up falling in love with her publisher.
It's London at the turn of the 20th century, and Beatrix Potter (RENÉE ZELLWEGER) is an unmarried, 32-year-old woman who still lives at home with her parents (BILL PATERSON & BARBARA FLYNN), and whose only constant companion is her older and prim chaperone, Miss Wiggin (MATYELOK GIBBS). That is, except for the fictitious animal characters that populate the children's books she's written, illustrated, and is trying to publish. Her parents think she's wasting her time and should find a husband, but Beatrix disagrees, and often converses with and imagines seeing those drawings coming to life.

Determined to succeed with her literary endeavor, Beatrix eventually meets with sibling publishers Harold Warne (ANTON LESSER) and Fruing Warne (DAVID BAMBER). They agree to represent her work, not because they think it will be successful, but since they see it as an opportunity to preoccupy their younger brother Norman (EWAN McGREGOR) and appease their mother Mrs. Warne (PHYLLIDA LAW). However, Norman takes his assignment seriously and soon has Beatrix's first work, Peter Rabbit, published. With his similarly unmarried and independent sister Millie (EMILY WATSON) befriending Beatrix, Norman ends up spending more time with her, eventually falling in love.

Yet, her parents are against the relationship as they see him below their social status. From that point on, she must contend with that, her growing love for Norman, and her eventual land ownership dealings with real estate agent William Heelis (LLOYD OWEN), a former childhood friend.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Mention the name Potter and children's literature, and 9 out of 10 people will likely think of a certain young wizard named Harry and the fabulously wealthy lady Brit who penned his tales. Yet, long before J.K. Rowling invented her world famous protagonist and his time spent at Hogwarts, another British author enraptured young readers with rather younger skewing tales of rabbits, kittens and more.

Now, a mere 140 years after her birth, Beatrix Potter gets her due in "Miss Potter," a pleasant diversion that focuses on the life and a bit of the times of one of the best selling children's authors of all time. Set in turn of the 20th century London, it features a likely polarizing performance by Renée Zellweger as the title character.

I say polarizing since some viewers will find her portrayal of the woman -- childlike wonder wrapped around her self-assured and independent behavior -- as enchanting, will others may likely view it as insulting and/or more of a moviemaking construct than a real representation.

Without knowing anything beyond the superficial about her, I can't attest to the accuracy of the performance. Yet, there's no denying the moments where she talks to her illustrated characters and they come to life on the page might put off some viewers due to such fanciful material clashing with the otherwise straightforward period drama.

Falling somewhere in the middle of that reactionary range, I did feel Zellweger straining a bit playing the British character unlike when she nailed doing Bridget Jones a few years back. That's unlike her costars -- Ewan McGregor as the publisher who falls for her and Emily Watson as his similarly independent and unmarried sister -- who effortlessly embody theirs and thus feel in line with the period setting.

Considering her nearly unheard of bucking of the publishing system as well as the social mores of the time, it's too bad the film glosses over what made the real life woman tick. While director Chris Noonan -- working from a script by Richard Maltby Jr. -- does use a few flashbacks to imply the impetus for what would later become the characters in her story, that aspect of the film felt a little too superficial for my liking.

The budding and mostly infectiously joyous love story between her and McGregor's characters, however, works much better, even if the interference posed by her parents (appropriately played by Bill Paterson & Barbara Flynn) -- while likely accurate for the time -- feels a bit too contrived and present just to spruce up the drama a bit.

I must admit that a third act development took me quite by surprise, perhaps because I believed a different sort of turn of events was going to transpire, this time involving another character who returns to Potter's life after a long absence. Historically accurate or not, it does change the film's tone, and those who've been grooving on the film's lighthearted aura might be a bit shell-shocked as they go along for the rest of the ride.

Yet, as with the rest of the world, life goes on and so it does in this story, concluding -- to the relief of most viewers -- with a happy, but nevertheless still bittersweet ending. Nothing terribly informative about the real woman and perhaps hindered a bit by Zellwegger's performance, "Miss Potter" nevertheless is entertaining enough to rate as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 13, 2007 / Posted January 12, 2007

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