Making the Grades
Many families have a collection of wee little books in their house with stories and drawings of such animal celebrities as Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin. Written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, the author has been a household name for the past century. Now the life of this woman, who seems as reclusive as her little forest characters, is being played out in this wonderfully charming film starring Ren0xE9e Zellweger.
The quiet biography begins in 1902 Victorian London, when the notion of a female engaging in the business of pitching a storybook idea is anything but common. After the older Warne brothers (Anton Lesser and David Bamber), owners of a publishing company known for children's literature, reluctantly agree to give the thirty-something lady a chance to see her tale of the impertinent rabbit in print, they assign their younger sibling Norman (Ewan McGregor) to the seemingly tedious task of working with Miss Potter.
This dismissive decision proves lucky for Beatrix, because Norman does not suffer from the same cynicism and contempt for working with a woman as his elders. Putting all his energy into the assignment (his first project for the family business), the rookie bookmaker is able to turn the publication into a bestseller. At the same time he manages an even more incredible accomplishment -- he infiltrates the heart of the work-obsessed author/artist.
Unfortunately, the budding romance finds little fertile soil in the Potter home. Beatrix's parents are determined to find their daughter the perfect suitor, and a common tradesman like Norman is hardly the kind of gentleman they are looking for.
These class prejudices, as well as some other difficult conditions, form the backbone of the screenplay. Deftly swinging from humorous to dramatic to heartbreaking, the film never loses touch of its protagonist and her desire to create beautiful stories and -- later in her life -- preserve the natural world around her.
Only a veiled sexual reference and a comedic moment of tipsiness constitute any content concerns for younger viewers, however parents should understand this is the story of Miss Potter -- not "The Tale of Peter Rabbit." While children may appreciate the movie's inclusion of some clever animation techniques that add a whimsical touch to Potter's drawings, the plot will most likely appeal to teens and adults who enjoy a tender romance. But most of all, for those who have always admired the artist's subtle drawings and her somewhat unusual children's stories, this film offers a fitting tribute to Beatrix and her creatures.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Miss Potter.
What do you learn about Victorian England from the depictions found in Miss Potter? How do you feel about that era’s view of the position of women and the well-entrenched class system that discouraged people from marrying others who were not of a similar financial circumstance?
Beatrix Potter left her real estate assets to the public, which are now administered by the National Trust in the UK. For more information on Hill Top Farm and the attractions you will find there, visit this Internet address: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-hilltop.htm