Beatrix Potter, (Renee Zellwegger), dreams of publishing her own children’s stories featuring such characters as Peter Rabbit. Determined to become an author against the wishes of her upper-crust parents, Beatrix finds a publisher willing to take her on. One of its partners, Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor), encourages her to fulfil her dreams and begins to not only become enchanted with the characters but Miss Potter herself. This part fantasy/biopic follows the tribulations of her efforts to get her vision printed and the personal trials she had to overcome.
Miss Potter presents a fanciful biography done in the glossy style of her books. The picture perfect countryside and genteel Englishness of her surroundings are all framed in an ever present soft haze of nostalgia. Beatrix Potter is shown as an eccentric feminist who gleefully railed against the airs and graces of her well heeled high society friends, beguiling everyone with her winsome charms. Her friendship with fellow eccentric Millie (Emily Watson), provides some life in a film that presents a very pleasant slice of nothing.
Biopics about authors have been hit and miss as filmmakers seem to be under the illusion that most authors’ lives are grand enough for the movie treatment. Beatrix Potter is presented as a nice person but her life seemed quite ordinary outside of her fantasy world. The use of animation to bring her characters to life never seems to gel seemingly being there to distract the audience from the blandness of the script. The screenplay follows the basic biopic set-up with Potter’s story barely being involving enough to stretch out the running time.
Given the unevenness of the story, the performances follow suit. Renee Zellwegger is terrible as Potter, wildly over playing the arch script, making her role seem like a theatrical caricature. Zellwegger alone isn’t guilty of this, as most of the cast play this way as well, as though they are sending up the early English 20th Century setting. The only person who acts with any grace and realism is Bill Paterson who plays Potter’s father. His natural delivery makes one wish everyone did the same, making the film seem more grounded than it should have been.
The film is a very pretty affair with the costumes and scenery being as expected. The G rating given this film seems to have forced the writers to whitewash various aspects of Potters life, ensuring the facts never get in the way of telling a coy, sweet yarn.
Rating out of 10: 3
Nicholas Garrigan, (James McAvoy), is a Scottish doctor who unwittingly becomes the personal physician to Ugandan President Idi Amin, (Forest Whitaker). Drawn to Amin’s magnetism and drive, Garrigan tries to ignore the injustices that Amin carries out ‘in the name of freedom’. When he witnesses Amin’s treachery first hand, however, Garrigan attempts to escape Amin’s evil despotic rule.
Idi Amin’s brutal regime is magnified with the use of the fictional character of Garrigan, who is in the frontline witnessing the atrocities that Amin hands out. Garrigan and Amin share a sense of national pride that draws them together, albeit both use different methods to express it. Entering Amin’s inner circle, he slowly unpeels the layers of psychotic paranoia that seems to drive his way of thinking. As any good orator, Amin knew how to stir up the pride in his people, charming them into his arms before he struck them down with violence. The pride that the Ugandan people had gave him power, but also eventually gave them the courage to overthrow his corrupt government.
The chaos and brutality is usually seen in the background, with the dynamics between the doctor and his powerful patient being the films’ centrepiece. As the tribal drums beat the Ugandan sounds, so too does Amin beat his opponents into submission with furious brute force. Kevin Macdonald’s direction raises the tension making the audience and characters wary that Amin may explode with the rage which is always under the surface.
Forest Whitaker’s portrayal is a thunderous performance of charm and delusion, encompassing the dark facets of the man. The jovial demeanour and deadly silences show the audience as to why Amin was so feared. Whitaker’s own facial features add greatly to Amin’s outward menace, with his lazy eye making him seem like a one eyed serpent ready to strike at any moment. James McAvoy as Garrigan expertly shows the initial idealism which slowly becomes undone when he becomes embroiled in Amins’ sinister domain. His determination to retrieve the humanity that he lost whilst under Amin’s influence is shown, with McAvoy infusing much sympathy as a man willing to do anything to get out.
This film exposes the extreme terror that Amin dished out being on the edge of madness for most of his reign. The mix of fact and fiction works as it provides the film with some heart amongst the carnage and personalises the feeling of despair the Ugandan people felt during the 1970s. The fact that Uganda survived his rule shows the strength of the people could never be broken.
Rating out of 10: 8