Beatrix Potter was the children’s publishing sensation of her day. In terms of book sales she was the Edwardian equivalent of J K Rowling. She was also a lady of remarkable drive, insight and wide-ranging abilities.
If you’ve seen the trailers for this biopic, you’ll know that Reneé Zellweger plays the eponymous writer/artist and Ewan McGregor the publisher with whom she becomes romantically involved. You will also know that Beatrix Potter’s beautiful illustrations are seen coming to life on the page. It was this latter point that gave me cause for concern as I queued up to buy my ticket. It looked altogether too cutesie for a depiction of the life of such a woman.
Surprisingly, this aspect of the film seldom felt out of place. I found myself accepting that we were being given glimpses into the mind of the writer and artist who, for many years, considered these fictional characters to be her only real friends.
The film opens with her trying to sell her first book, Peter Rabbit (a story that my family used to have a vinyl record of. I still remember my complete fear and fascination for the thing as a child, especially the bit where poor Peter squeezes under the gate.)
We see Beatrix Potter’s rise to fame and fortune, her first romance, her refusal to play the part of the upper class unmarried woman, her arguments with her family and ultimately her move to the Lake District.
My only complaint is with Reneé Zellweger’s portrayal of Potter, which I couldn’t believe at first. Perhaps it was a memory of Zellweger playing another famously unmarried thirty-something. It wasn’t an easy role, of course. Characters that spend so much of their time living in internal worlds are notoriously difficult to portray in movies (much easier in novels). Whatever the reason, I found her harder to accept than the other members of the cast, who all gave excellent performances.
A good story has its own momentum, however. I soon forgot my reservations and by the end I was completely absorbed in this gentle, beautiful and genuinely poignant film.