From Paddington to the Big Friendly Giant, British children’s literature is killing it at the box office. It was only a matter of time, then, before someone snapped up the film rights to Beatrix Potter and her merry band of trouserless critters.
It’s attracted some big stars, too; Sam Neill as the ultimate nimby Farmer McGregor, Domhnall Gleeson as great nephew Thomas who inherits his land, and Rose Byrne as Bea, his whimsical neighbour. Daisy Ridley’s in it, as is Sia, and even Margot Robbie, who plays Flopsy Bunny and provides a totally pointless narration.
The title role is taken by James Corden, who throws himself into the voicework with terrifying gusto and a truckful of Americanisms. Somehow, it’s easier to believe that a rabbit could set up an intricate booby trap than it is to hear one say “I hear you” or “crushed it”. Especially in Potter’s beloved Windermere, where this film is faithfully set.
Her fiction is essentially an extended love letter to the English countryside, a notion that plays out well through Bea and Thomas’ unlikely relationship. She’s a nature-loving artist, he’s a recently-fired, neurotic retail manager at Harrods, where he roughed up some teddy bears after missing out on a promotion. She teaches him how to cope with a different pace of life, he tries to seduce her while secretly trying to kill her furry friends.
Perfectly animated though they are, the rabbits are an exhausting combination of wacky and woke. Like Corden, they’re just too eager to please, serving up adorable speech impedients and goo goo eyes one minute, and jokes about political correctness the next (despite being on the end of a backlash for the blackberry-induced allergy-bullying saga).
Byrne and Gleeson are charming, but every time a rabbit bounds into sight, you’ll wish they’d burrowed to the centre of the earth.