I consider Beatrix Potter to be one of the greatest women in history. Just as St. Francis of Assissi is famous for, among other great things, promoting kindness to all animals, Beatrix is famous for showing, to the world, the beauty, and the importance of being kind to, small animals, particularly mice. Before there was Mickey Mouse, there were Beatrix's delicate little field mice - and even dainty, but rough, urban mice! While being renowned as an artist and storyteller, the independent-thinking Beatrx spent most of her life as a very successful farmer, excelling in a predominantly male field, and championed the preservation of open spaces in the face of the Industrial Revolution and its push for development.
The multifaceted Renee Zellweger, who marvelously played Roxie, a convicted murderess in the Academy-Award winning musical Chicago, is an absolutely strong and charming Beatrix. We see her, like a brave warrior woman, bravely, and successfully, battle her mother's demands for her to live a conventional mundane high society upper-middle-class life. Beatrix fiercely hangs onto her love of her art and her love of animals and the outdoors, and her love of her fiancee and editor Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor). Yet Zellweger's Beatrix can be as sweet as one of her mice, albeit a mouse with sharp pointy teeth! We see her endearing smile as she talks about her work and as she paints the animals that are beloved throughout the world, and we can easily see how confirmed bachelor Norman falls for her, even though she has passed her 30th birthday without having married - which is unheard of in the late 19th and early 20th centuries! Zellweger also shows great pathos when she succumbs to depression right after Norman's untimely death, yet this pathos slowly turns first to purpose and determination, and then to joy, as she goes into the country, gets her hands good and dirty, and finds happiness as a farmer, and falls in love with the compassionate Willy Heelis, who encourages her in her art and writing, her farming, and her championship of the preservation of wildlife and open space. After the end of the movie, Beatrix and Willy marry and live happily ever after! It has also been written that Beatrix was a maverick farmer, and she has since been greatly recognized for her farming. I am looking forward to seeing Zellweger in the upcoming Western, Apaloosa!
Complementing Zellweger's performance is Lucy Boynton as the wise young Beatrix, who shows the determination and the love of the outdoors and the strength that this great hero had all her life. In one scene in which Boynton is wearing a fedora, she looks just like the real Beatrix in a picture I saw of her at age 10 in a biography!
While I found everything about the movie historically accurate, there are a few details that ever so slightly detracted from the charm. First, Zellweger's shoulder-length hair, which is in a tiny little bun for most of the film, is completely out of character and time. Healthy women, especially the sturdy Potter, had very long thick luxurious hair, and pictures of Potter show her hair pulled back in quite a large and substantial bun. Second, during the flashbacks, the mouse friends of young Beatrix (Lucy Boynton) are pure white. The mice whom Beatrix most likely befriended, throughout her life, probably had brown hair, the color of a good latte. Lastly, I was disappointed when, at the beginning of the movie, Potter said she had a gaggle of her friends with her, and the friends in question were her characters and not real live animals! Biographies of Beatrix Potter have stated that the friends she kept with her all the time were little animals, and, while we are on the subject of small animals, where, oh where, have the guinea pigs gone? While some great heroes are associated with horses, Beatrix Potter loved having guinea pigs around, and a scene with a guinea pig oinking happily away on Beatrix Potter's knee would have enhanced this already charming movie!
The animated characters of Beatrix's tales added to my delight of the whole movie because she believed in them, and she believed in her work, and she believed in her dreams! This is truly one of the most charming and most empowering movies I have ever seen, and I consider it wise for women and all young girls who seek wisdom to see it - and then, for heaven's sake, spend the rest of the day outside!