After portraying fictional English heroine Bridget Jones, in the 'Bridget Jones' Diaries' series, in 'Miss Potter' Renée Zellweger takes on the role of real-life British author Beatrix Potter, the writer and illustrator of much-loved children's classics including 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' and 'The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle'. In a cinematic world infused with cheap - and often nasty - sentiment, 'Miss Potter' is a welcome breath of fresh air.
When we first meet Beatrix, she is an unmarried woman in her early thirties, living at home with her well-off parents and chaperoned at every turn by the stern, elderly, black-clad Miss Wiggin (Gibbs). But, unlike many conventional women of her Victorian times, Beatrix has an interest of her own - writing about and drawing animals, here illustrated with delightful animated sequences from her stories, featuring characters such as Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck. Her habit of dismissing the suitors produced by her snobbish mother (Flynn) has isolated Beatrix from her married peers at a time when marriage was the only career open to a woman. Instead, at the ripe old age of 32, she nerves herself up to bring her work to a publishers, thereby embarking on a new life as a literary sensation - and as a woman.
While Zellweger seems a little twitchy at the start of the film, she gets into her stride as the story progresses and she gets good support from Ewan McGregor who is charming as Beatrix's publisher and love interest, the slightly geeky Norman Warne. Both intense and comical, Emily Watson is endearing as his unmarried sister, and Beatrix's friend, Millie - an example of an unmarried Victorian woman who does not have the means of escape that Beatrix does.
Summer always seems present in cinematographer Andrew Dunn's shots of the bucolic English countryside. He is particularly adept at capturing the rolling hills and gentle beauty of the Lake District - important because the last part of this slightly uneven film focuses on Beatrix's early environmentalism, as she used the proceeds from her books to buy up vast tracts of the countryside which she later turned over to the National Trust for preservation.
For lovers of literature and romantics of every colour, 'Miss Potter' is a sweet, although not too sugary, treat.