Film reviews aren’t part of my routine, but in the case of the recent release “Miss Potter”, starring Rene Zellweger, I’ll make an exception. Thumbs up! Five stars. Saw it twice!
The story is based on the life of Beatrix Potter, the authoress of classic children’s books like The Tale of Peter Rabbit, but this isn’t a children’s movie. Instead, “Miss Potter” is a story of how a young woman had the inner strength to overcome the stifling social mores of the Victorian era. After I saw the film with my wife I took my ten year old daughter, Lena. Like young Beatrix, my daughter loves to paint. I thought it would be instructive for Lena to see how women’s roles in society have changed over the years, by seeing the struggles of a woman with whom she could sympathize.
I loved the farm-life angle to the film’s storyline too. Beatrix Potter painted scenes from the English countryside around her. Her illustrations are so well observed that I can name the breed of animal or the variety of flower or vegetable pictured. In an illustration for The Tale Of Jemima Puddle-Duck it’s clearly a rhubarb plant that Jemima has chosen to hide her eggs under. “She tried to hide her eggs;” Beatrix Potter writes, “but they were always found and carried off.” The farm boy in the picture looks at the silly duck hen confronting him with a reproach, and Jemima looks concerned. Beatrix writes that Jemima was “quite desperate.” The authoress was probably aware that rhubarb is synonymous with words of dispute, like ruckus, quarrel, controversy, debate, disagreement, bickering, fuss, and flap. The picture has a homey tartness that can appeal to the parent reading the story, as much as the sweeter elements appeal to the child being read to.
When foxy gentleman’s house is pictured, later in the same story, there’s a Digitalis purpurea plant in full bloom at the edge of the frame. Digitalis grows well in dank, moist, shady areas, and the most common name for Digitalis is foxglove—another name is “dead man’s bells.” Is Beatrix insinuating that Jemima is a dead duck? Most illustrations for contemporary children’s books feature generic images of nature that are pretty, but iconic and lacking detail. I like all kinds of art, from the religious psychedelia like The Garden Of Earthly Delights by Bosch, to Klimpt’s line drawings of women to Magritte’’ surrealistic businessmen with their faces obscured by large green apples. But I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for super-realistic images of bunnies in britches too, especially when there are shadowy innuendoes drawn in to give the pictures more depth.
The movie “Miss Potter” captures the rustic beauty of the Lake Country,but it doesn’t take us down a saccharin garden path. Beatrix Potter looked deeply into the world around her, and her familiarity with nature bred love. She overcame societal obstacles and personal inhibitions to become a millionairess, and then she invested her money in land to save working farms from destruction. We can still enjoy England’s Lake country because of her. Beatrix Potter was WAY ahead of her time, and her curious, amusing Victorian morality tales are only part of her legacy.
Oceans are rising, the ice-caps are melting, the apocalypse is nigh, and there’s always so much doomed news to dwell on. The fact that Hollywood moguls saw a market for a movie about Beatrix Potter, and then made a movie where love for the natural environment is as important a theme as the search for romantic love—well, it me think that those of us working towards a sustainable, nature based agriculture can hope for a happy ending too! This farmer says “Go Beatrix!”