Beatrix before Harry

8th December 2006 at 00:00
Nick Morrison finds out how the Peter Rabbit creator is making a comeback

Long before that upstart Harry came on the scene, another Potter held sway in children's hearts. Now she's back, and this time she means business.

The New Year sees the release of a biopic of Beatrix Potter. Miss Potter, starring Renee Zellweger, tells how the author flouted many conventions and developed her love for nature, which led to the creation of such well-loved characters as Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.

In the build-up to the film's opening, Film Education has produced a Miss Potter study pack, which is being sent free to English and media teachers.

While the books have been popular with generations of pre-school children, the guide itself is aimed at key stage 3 pupils.

"The film is more about Beatrix Potter's life and times, rather than the books, although some of the children will remember the books or may have brothers and sisters who have them at home," says Julie Green, director of education at Film Education, a charity funded by the UK film industry and the British Film Institute.

"We hope it will provide an insight into what children perceive a children's author to be, as well as about the art of making films."

The pack looks at the author's life, her struggle to make her way as a woman in Victorian society and her storytelling, and at the complicated film-making process itself.

Tasks include challenging children to examine Potter's anthropomorphism, writing a review of her books from the point of view of a middle-class Victorian gentleman, storyboarding one of her tales, or putting together a pitch for a film on another author.

The pack has links to citizenship, geography, history, art and science.

Beatrix Potter's love for the Lake District, inspired by a childhood family holiday, features strongly in the pack, with pupils asked to prepare a tourist guide to the area and consider the impact of filming on the environment.

Her role as one of the first people to notice the relationship between algae and lichen is also covered.

The books are illustrated in the film through animation, and children are set the task of considering the role of fantasy elements within films.

"This is about using film as another way of getting into the idea of story-making and story-telling, and saying that films as well as books can be studied to learn about narrative form and structure," says Ms Green.

"It is very much learning about film, as well as learning through film, and using film in more ways than just passively watching it"

The Miss Potter study guide is being sent to 9,000 English and media teachers, and is also available online, at www.filmeducation.org. Miss Potter, starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, opens on January 5

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