One of the great tragedies in the current onslaught of biopics is that they seem to have adopted a movie formula, as if any old person's life could be crammed into the same three-act structure. (Aren't human beings supposed to be as different as snowflakes?) The most brutally obvious recent examples were Ray (2004) and Walk the Line (2005), which, as we speak, are probably inadvertently merging the legends of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash into interchangeable tidbits.

Chris Noonan's Miss Potter doesn't rectify this situation, but it does move in a different direction, into a more fanciful realm. It's more interested in capturing the essence of its subject -- children's author Beatrix Potter -- than in providing a checklist of the things she accomplished. Like a smoother Finding Neverland (2004), it moves away from reality and into movieland, which at least is more honest than falsely representing reality. Miss Potter starts badly and ends badly, but a good, solid hour in the middle is as charming as anything you'll see this holiday season. It's actually a perfect movie to see on Christmas Day between presents and dinner.