Promotional movie poster
|Directed by||Chris Noonan|
|Written by||Richard Maltby, Jr.|
|Distributed by||Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
The Weinstein Company
|Release date(s)||United Kingdom:
3 December 2006
10 December 2006
|Running time||92 min.|
Miss Potter is a 2006 Chris Noonan film. It is a biopic of children's author and illustrator Beatrix Potter, and combines stories from her own life with animated sequences featuring characters from her stories, such as Peter Rabbit.
Scripted by Richard Maltby, Jr., the director of the Tony-winning Broadway revue, Fosse, the film stars Renée Zellweger in the title role; Ewan McGregor as her publisher and fiancé, Norman Warne; and Lloyd Owen as solicitor William Heelis. Emily Watson stars as Warne's sister, Millie. Lucy Boynton also stars as the young Beatrix Potter.
It was filmed in Cecil Court, Osterley Park, Covent Garden, the Isle of Man, Scotland and the Lake District. Miss Potter was released on 29 December 2006 so that the film could compete for the 2007 Academy Awards. The film was intended to be released generally on 12 January 2007, however Variety.com reported that the Weinstein Company had decided to push a wider release date until after the Academy Awards on February 25, 2007. It was felt that this strategy would give the film a chance to shine in what was already a very crowded movie season. The date seemed to fluctuate a number of times, but the Weinstein Company website ultimately listed its release date as March 9.
Early buzz was overall positive by those few who had been able to see the film during numerous sneak preview showings, but occasionally sprinkled with discussions regarding some of the historical inaccuracies in the film. There also have been both praise and criticism of the casting of this much-loved figure in British children's literature with American actress Zellweger. These discussions are reminiscent of the initial uproar when Zellweger was cast in the British film role of Bridget Jones, which was developed into a sequel. Zellweger previously had co-starred with McGregor in the 2003 film Down with Love.
The story begins with Beatrix Potter nervously packing her portfolio and narrating that she is a London singleton, who is frowned upon by many, especially her mother, for her ambitions of getting her series of children's books published. She and her chaperone, Miss Wiggin, visit the publishing house of the Warne brothers and they decide to publish her book. Beatrix is thrilled and returns home, not without taking a drive through the parks to celebrate first. However it is revealed that the Warne brothers think Miss Potter's book is ridiculous and will no doubt be a failure. The only reason they agreed to publish her story is because they promised their youngest brother, Norman, a project and have therefore dumped him on Miss Potter.
When Norman Warne arrives, Beatrix makes decisions about her finished book, regarding book size, the colour and the price. Norman admits he has never done anything like this before but has given her book a great deal of thought. Beatrix realises what the Warne brothers have done regarding her and Norman but they become determined to prove them wrong. Norman takes Beatrix to the printer, and she has her drawings reproduced and copies of her book sold. Thrilled, Beatrix and Norman visit the Warne family, where Beatrix meets the wheelchair-bound but lovely Mrs. Warne, and Norman's sister, Amelia, nicknamed "Millie". Millie has decided that she and Beatrix are going to be friends and is overjoyed that Beatrix is a spinster, as is Millie, who believes men to be nothing but bores. The family and Beatrix become friends straight away, yet Helen Potter, Beatrix's social-climbing mother, is unhappy about her daughter spending time in the company of tradesmen.
When she returns home, Beatrix and Helen Potter bicker about Beatrix's stubborn decision not to marry. She reminds Beatrix of all the suitors she has rejected (all of whom were bestial in appearance; resembling a goat, a pig and a horse). Beatrix reminds her mother of the book she wrote, and her mother retorts she hopes it will all be over soon. She believes the venture will fail. However, the book sales are very successful and copies are displayed in many store windows. Even Beatrix's father, Rupert, buys a copy along with friends at the Reform Club. Encouraged by this success and her father's support, Beatrix invites Norman and Millie to her family's Christmas party, despite her mother's misgivings. At the party everyone enjoys themselves and Beatrix shows Norman a story she is writing especially for him, "The Rabbits' Christmas Party". She shows him a drawing from the story and shows him her studio where she writes and draws. Miss Wiggin falls asleep from too much brandy, and Norman plucks up the courage to propose to Beatrix. Mrs. Potter interrupts before Beatrix can reply, and they join the other guests in the drawing room. Beatrix confides in Millie about Norman proposing, and Millie encourages her to say yes. Beatrix then tells the guests of the stories she writes and they are delighted and amused. Mrs. Potter, however, can not see what all the fuss is about. As the guests leave, Beatrix whispers her agreement to marry Norman, who is overjoyed.
Soon after, Rupert Potter invites Norman to his office and tells him his opinion of him. At the Potter household, Beatrix and her parents argue about her decision to marry Norman. Beatrix is adamant and will not be dissuaded. Mrs. Potter tells her no Potter can marry into a trade, but Beatrix reminds her that her grandfathers were both tradesmen. Her paternal grandfather owned a printing works and Mrs. Potter's father owned cotton mills. When Mrs. Potter threatens to cut her daughter off, Beatrix reminds them of her brother, Bertram, who married a wine merchant's daughter and was not disowned. She states she can survive on her own with her novels. Mr. Potter attempts to reason with his daughter, but she tells him she wants to be loved and not simply marry someone because he is acceptable and can provide for her.
Beatrix inquires with the bank about her royalty earnings, wondering if she would perhaps someday be able to buy a house in the country. She is amazed and delighted to learn that her book sales have made her wealthy enough to buy several estates and a house in town if she wishes.
When she returns home her parents offer a proposition: that Beatrix keep her engagement to Norman a secret and vacation with them in the Lake District for the summer. They hope that the time apart will change her mind about marrying Norman. However, if she still wishes to marry him at the end of the summer, they agree that they will not object to the marriage. Beatrix agrees to the proposition and is quite convinced that she will not change her mind, telling her parents to prepare for an October wedding.
Norman and Beatrix kiss each other goodbye at the train station and write many letters during their time apart, until one day a letter arrives from his sister Millie, informing her that Norman is ill. Beatrix travels back to London only to find that Norman has died. Overcome with grief Beatrix shuts herself up in her room. She turns to her drawing, but discovers that her characters disappear off the page. Millie comes to visit and comfort her, and Beatrix decides she must leave the house.
Beatrix buys a farm in the country in the Lake District and moves there to resume her work. She hires a farmhand to run the farm and finds comfort in her surroundings. With the help of her solicitor, William Heelis, she outbids developers at auctions and buys many other farms and land in the area to preserve nature. Eight years after moving to the Lake District she marries William. The land eventually forms part of the Lake District National Park in northwestern England.
The film was Director Chris Noonan's first in ten years (since he made Babe), having waited for many years until he finally came across a script that inspired him. Cate Blanchett, who originally suggested Noonan for the role of director, was at one point set to star at the film but apologetically left the project when one of her other films was green-lit before this one. Zellweger ended up becoming an executive producer on the film because she was unsatisfied with the script and wanted to get more involved. The film was first brought to Ewan McGregor's attention by Zellweger, who had kept in contact with him after collaborating on Down with Love. McGregor described the film as having a somewhat similar appeal as that film, and noted that he was familiar with Beatrix Potter's illustrations and stories, which he said he reads to his kids. To prepare for the role, McGregor studied photographs of Norman Warne and visited the modern-day Warne publishing house. Zellweger read actual letters between Beatrix Potter and Norman Warne and Millie to prepare for the role, but had difficulty with the accent, which she said was very different from Bridget Jones'. As there were no records of Beatrix Potter’s speaking voice, they had to guess; ultimately the voice was softened so as not to irritate contemporary audiences with the tight, high voice a woman of Beatrix Potter's standing at that time may have had.  Zellweger said that she had read a few of Beatrix Potter's stories growing up, but that she had never known anything about the woman herself. Noonan said that when growing up he had never read Beatrix Potter's stories, and that, "I was aware of her because of all that crockery with her characters on it."
The film used animated versions of Beatrix Potter's characters and illustrations, which were composited into the live-action shots. According to Chris Knott (who had previously worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit), VFX supervisor on the film for Passion Pictures, they were given access to collections of Potter's original work to help them recreate it for the animations. Noonan said that it was hard to find anyone who still did cell animation, but did end up finding such a person in Alyson Hamilton, who already had a great deal of appreciation for Potter's work.
The score for the film was composed by Nigel Westlake (who had previously worked with Noonan on Babe) although Rachel Portman was brought in to record some of the music for the Lake District scenes. Westlake was asked by Noonan during filming to come up with a waltz-like tune for some lyrics they had, and, with the collaboration of Mike Batt and Katie Melua, this same song was also turned into a pop song used in the end credits of the film.
The film contains some historical inaccuracies about Potter's life. What follows may be a little closer to the truth: