As delicate as the title character’s watercolors, this gentle story about the author and illustrator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit very winning.
Renee Zellwegger plays the quiet daughter of conventional parents who don’t quite know how to respond to a young woman who calls the animals in her paintings her friends. These friends help give her the courage to oppose her parents and conventional society. Originally taken on by a family-run publisher as a sure-fire failure to keep an inept brother tied up so that he couldn’t meddle in anything important, it turns out that the brother (Ewan McGregor as Norman Warne) is just the right partner for Miss Potter, a kindred spirit in every way.
Beatrix and Norman fall in love, sweetly and tenderly. But her parents object, and insist on delay that turns into disaster. Still, Norman’s love and the support of his sister, who became Beatrix’s lifelong friend, give Beatrix the strength to think about what she really wants. In a lovely scene, she shyly asks a banker whether she might possibly have enough money from book sales to buy a farm. It turns out she has no idea that she has become a wealthy woman due to the popularity of Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, Benjamin Bunny, and her other friends.
Some may dismiss the film as too twee and “Masterpiece Theatre”-ish. But those who come with a little patience and an open heart will find themselves moved by seeing Beatrix discover her strength and embrace the world. And those who think of her as just a painter of pretty pictures and a teller of pretty stories will find themselves inspired by her pioneering work on behalf of the environment.
Parents should know that the movie has some very mild references to propriety concerns of the era and a mild reference to alcohol abuse. There is a sad death. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of early concerns about class and gender equality and the environment.
Families who see this movie should talk about how some ideas about families and class and gender distinctions have changed since Beatrix Potter’s time. They should also talk about why Potter’s mother and father had different reactions to her work and why her work was so important to her.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy reading Beatrix Potter’s books. Potter’s characters are so popular they even appear in a ballet. Families will also enjoy the book and movie versions of “Alice in Wonderland.” In You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown the Peanuts characters sing a wonderful song about a book report on Potter’s most famous book, “Peter Rabbit.”