The Tales of Beatrix Potter
|The Tales of Beatrix Potter|
|Directed by||Reginald Mills|
|Produced by||Richard Goodwin|
|Screenplay by||Richard Goodwin|
|Based on||stories by Beatrix Potter|
|Starring||Royal Ballet dancers:|
|Music by||John Lanchbery|
|Edited by||John Rushton|
|Distributed by||MGM-EMI (UK)|
|30 June 1971|
|Budget||less than $600,000|
The Tales of Beatrix Potter (US title: Peter Rabbit and Tales of Beatrix Potter) is a 1971 ballet film based on the children's stories of English author and illustrator Beatrix Potter. The film was directed by Reginald Mills, choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton (who danced the role of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle), and featured dancers from The Royal Ballet. The musical score was arranged by John Lanchbery from various sources, such as the operas of Michael Balfe and of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and performed by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. It was produced by Richard Goodwin with John Brabourne as executive producer. The stories were adapted by Goodwin and his wife designer Christine Edzard.
The Tales of Beatrix Potter is the only feature film directed by Mills, who is best remembered as a film editor. Mills edited The Red Shoes (1948) and other films directed and produced by Powell and Pressburger that incorporated ballet.
The film was a passion project for producer Richard Goodwin who succeeded in getting the film rights from Potter's estate. (The estate had turned down an approach from Walt Disney because they were worried he would distort the work.) Goodwin worked on developing the film for two years with his wife, designer Christine Edzard. Instead of a conventional screenplay, Edzard produced over two hundred sketches.
Goodwin approached Ashton to choreograph. He later said: "I was not certain that with films dominated by violence and sex the time was right for such an explosion of sheer charm. But now I think the public is more than ready for something like this."
The film was given the go ahead by Bryan Forbes during his period as head of production at EMI Films. He recalled that the EMI Board were not enthusiastic, and Nat Cohen had never heard of Beatrix Potter, but he had complete artistic control for any movie made with a budget under £1 million so could easily gain approval.
Producer Richard Goodwin called the film "a diversion... a souffle... it is an entertainment."
The film was one of the most successful of the Forbes regime at EMI Films. It was one of the most popular movies in 1971 at the British box office. By June 1972 it earned EMI a profit of £18,000.
A 1971 review by Roger Ebert was favourable: "The stories are told simply and directly and with a certain almost clumsy charm. Instead of going for perfection in the dancing, the Royal Ballet dancers have gone for characterizations instead. The various animals have their quirks and eccentricities, and they are fairly authentic: The frog dances like a frog, for example, and not like Nureyev." Anthony Nield wrote in 2011, "Tales of Beatrix Potter is one of British cinema's true one-offs, a film quite unlike any other. Ostensibly aimed at children, this adaptation of Potter’s various animal-centric stories was mounted by the Royal Ballet and choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton. The tales are rendered as a series of dances, loosely interconnected by the author as a young girl (played by Érin Geraghty) and her active imagination. There are no words, only music and movement as the performers of the Royal Ballet—in full animal costume—interpret her stories' simple narratives."
- Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Jemima Puddle-Duck and Royal Ballet: Puddle-Duck and the Royal Ballet Bernheimer, Martin. Los Angeles Times 13 June 1971: s40.
- Yeatman, Linda (15 March 1971). "Tale of Beatrix Potter's Ballet". The Times. p. 9. Issue 58122.
- Bryan Forbes, A Divided Life, Mandarin, 1993 pp. 30–31
- Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p. 114
- Harper, Sue (2011). British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure: The Boundaries of Pleasure. Edinburgh University Press. p. 269.
- Moody, Paul (19 October 2018). EMI Films and the Limits of British Cinema. Springer. p. 83.
- Ebert, Roger (19 November 1971). "Peter Rabbit and the Tales of Beatrix Potter". Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert rated the film with four stars (out of four).
- Nield, Anthony (6 April 2011). "Tales of Beatrix Potter". The Digital Fix: Film.[dead link]
- Erickson, Glenn (12 February 2004). "The Tales of Beatrix Potter". DVD Savant.
Tales of Beatrix Potter is a ballet film civilians can sit through. There's almost no plot and it will be slow going for anyone incapable of appreciating delicate dance steps. This category definitely includes Savant, but I was captivated by the film's production values and the amazing characterizations.