Miss Potter, Downton Abbey, Human Planet

Miss Potter, a true romance

How many shows are good enough that you can walk into them partway through and within a minute become completely engrossed? I found two this week. The first is the 2006 film Miss Potter, which tells the story of Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), who is the best selling children’s author of all time. You might know her by the most famous of her 23 illustrated children’s stories: The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

As a side note, Potter spent a lot of time at her family’s country home in the Lake District. I was lucky enough to be able to vacation there once, but never knew until I saw this film that the gorgeous landscapes that had been preserved were partially due to her donation of 4,000 acres.  

The movie opens with the fact that Potter, who is played so well by Renée Zellweger, has missed her early chances of marriage. She’s a young spinster, and, having a number of her illustrations purchased, is determined to make some money publishing her own illustrated stories. The movie follows her journey to publication, which met with opposition from both publishers and her family, but the real heart of the film is the story of her meeting and falling in love with Norman Warne, whom her parents, especially her mother, don’t approve of because he’s a tradesman. The film is full of wonderful drama, humor, tragedy, and solace. I can’t recommend it highly enough. In fact, I found myself watching it a second time two days later with my girls with just as much enjoyment.

Downton Abbey, a period drama

The second show is the BBC miniseries Downton Abbey.  Its first season of seven episodes aired last year in the USA on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater.  The second season will air at the beginning of 2012.  

The series is set in the fictional Downton Abbey and follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants. The stories take place over the time period that starts with the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 to the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914.

The main story line running through the episodes is the fact that the Crawley family must give up the estate to a distant relation because they have no male heir. But what I find so refreshing is that the stories of various servants are included. Some are funny. Some pull at your heart strings.

So far I’ve met and enjoyed some truly delightful characters as well as a couple of villains. If you enjoyed the BBC’s Pride & Prejudice or the Cranford series, I think you’ll enjoy this.

Human Planet, an amazing documentary

These last two weeks I’ve watched with fascination the eight episodes of the BBC and Discovery documentary series Human Planet. One species on our planet has adapted to every environment on earth—that’s us. The series looks at a number of remarkable ways humans have adapted to the various habitats.

You’ll see people from all over the globe who do things you never would imagine. Here’s just a small sample:

 

  • -Folks in Churchill, Manitoba Canada who trick or treat on Halloween with hungry polar bears stalking the streets
  • -A man in Papua New Guinea practicing the ancient art of shark calling in a small canoe
  • -Dolphins that help humans fish in Brazil
  • -A wild honeyguide bird working with Maasai boys to steal honey from wild African bees
  • -Mongolians using tamed golden eagles to hunt fox
  • -People in the eastern Amazon who love their pet monkeys so much they breastfeed them
  • -Inuit Canadians who risk death going under the arctic ice during low tide to gather mussels
  • -Three Dorobo in Kenya stealing food from a lion pride of more than twenty lions

 

Oh, and how could I not mention the three children who hunt tarantulas in Venezuela, roasting them up as tasty treats that taste a little like crab. I could go on and on. There are sixty-three of these stories in all, grouped into eight episodes that each focus on a certain habitat, including deserts, the Arctic, jungles, mountains, grasslands, rivers, and cities. Each episode also includes a behind-the-scenes story about the filming of one of the episodes. And some of these are as thrilling as the stories themselves.

In fact, that’s one of the things I love about this series. In addition to showing me fascinating things I’ve never seen, a number of the stories also raise the adrenaline just a bit. And yet, that’s not all. Because while presenting “strange” cultures, the stories humanize these folks so that instead of presenting aliens, these people feel more like fascinating distant relations. This is storytelling at its finest. If you like nature shows at all, you’ll be totally delighted with Human Planet.

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