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"Miss Potter" is not a motion picture for cynics. If you walk into this film expecting the grit of reality or a complex portrait of literary artistry at work, it's your own damn fault. You've been warned.
"Potter" marks the return to the director's chair for Chris Noonan, and I can't think of a better person to realize Potter's wild imagination and rosy-cheeked impulses. It's been 11 years since Noonan directed the family film classic "Babe," and his brightly curious filmmaking eye has been missed ever since. In many ways, "Potter" is in the same vein as the talking pig phenomenon, constructing a highly fantastical imaginary universe while also addressing very real world feelings of loss, abandonment, and the bliss of achievement.
To properly illuminate Potter's world, Noonan employs moments of animation to bring Peter Rabbit and her other creations to life. Potter cherished these characters dearly, and, at times, they were her only confidants in the world. In the film, the water-colored paintings jump off the page when Potter is feeling lonely, anxious, or playful. They lend the picture those first moments of fantasy to better comprehend Potter's creative process, but the animation also serves to understand the bond and trust she placed in her creations.
"Potter" is also a romantic tale of distance, as Potter and Warne have to maneuver slowly to keep their love from being stamped out by society and the Potter family's social requirements. Noonan's blueprint of attraction is achieved though bright, beaming performances from Zellweger and McGregor, who play their forbidden romance with a jubilant moonwalk that embraces the most candied, rewarding moments of screen love. Noonan takes their relationship to idealized heights, staging stolen kisses and letter-bound longing in the style of classic Hollywood. If you've got any speck of black on your heart, this material is sure to drive you mad.
The final act of the film covers the author's attempt to build her life on the expansive English countryside, which lead into Potter's desire for environmental preservation. Using her "Peter Rabbit" royalties, Potter bought up all the land within her sight (4000 acres), and to this day it remains in pristine condition. This is a fascinating side to Potter's personality, but Noonan doesn't give it quite the amount of screentime it deserves. The film has the sensation of a reel missing in the final 30 minutes; it gallops to a conclusion instead of earning one. It's one of the few times in recent years where I've wished a film to be even longer. At 85 minutes, "Potter" cuts off rather abruptly.
In maybe too many uncomfortable ways, "Miss Potter" does admittedly cross into similar terrain as the Johnny Depp, J.M. Barrie fantasy, "Finding Neverland;" however, the difference is, "Potter" is much lighter on its toes, and has a more childlike hold on the fantasy realm. Both films reach that critical understanding of their subjects and inspiration, but in Beatrix Potter's case, her whimsy, brought to life by Zellweger, is given a richer cinematic sense of purpose, and a lighter, participatory touch.