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'Miss Potter' a serious biography

"Miss Potter," which examines the life of the fabulously successful children's author Beatrix Potter, is not biography-lite.

Potter (Renee Zellweger) was a Victorian woman struggling to be her own person in a time when women were measured not by their accomplishments but by how well they married and the type of home they kept. They were adornments, complimenting the men in their lives. Potter clearly had different ideas. As the film shows, in a series of backstory set pieces, at an early age she drew animals and told her younger brother stories. In fact the animals were as real to her as were her friends and family.

The film uses brief moments of animation and we see the animals come alive on the page, with Potter speaking to them, much to the consternation of her mother who finds all of this storytelling and drawing a distraction. What her daughter needs, she insisted, is merely to find a man of means. Nothing else matters, least of all this chatter about publishing a book and spending time with "trades people" who, as she says, "bring dust into the house."

Beatrix was an artist who followed her passion and her dream; however, she found little support from her mother, and certainly not even a glimmer of approbation from the turn-of-the-century affluent society to which she belonged. But no matter. Because of her determination and her belief in herself and her stories, accompanied by her remarkable illustrations, with the help of her publisher, Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor), she finds and audience that resonates to the magical tales of Peter and Jemima Puddleduck and so many more.

"Miss Potter" is exceptional in so many ways. As engaging as anything that Potter might ever have written. And the performances are top drawer. Zellweger is superb as Beatrix, and gives a spot-on portrayal of the emotionally reserved woman. And, of course, there is the wonderful supporting English cast, led by Barbara Flynn and Bill Patterson as her parents.

So engaging is this film that at one point, after Zellweger delivers a defiant monologue, the audience laughed and clapped and cheered her on. It was a rare moment. And yet an expression of just how much "Miss Potter" engages because of its fine narrative and superb acting.