Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Tailor of Gloucester (1993)

In late 2017, Sony Pictures released a trailer for a live-action Peter Rabbit movie. Though I had already then been rediscovering Beatrix Potter’s artwork, my negative reaction to the Peter Rabbit trailer caused that to kick into high gear, leading me to fully rediscover her beloved stories through a hardcover collection and fall in love with her stories again for the first time since childhood. Part of this was re-watching The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends animated series adapting a handful of the Peter Rabbit stories, my primary exposure to the world of Beatrix Potter as a child, on a DVD set (one such story, The Tale of Mr. Tod, also happens to be my personal favorite of the books). One of the stories to get adapted was The Tailor of Gloucester, notable for being Beatrix Potter’s personal favorite of the Peter Rabbit stories.

First published in 1903, The Tailor of Gloucester was the third of Potter’s children's books to be released. The story was inspired by a real-life event where a waistcoat a tailor had to prepare for the Mayor of Gloucester was finished overnight, save for one of the buttonholes, as though it were the work of mice (though it turned out to have actually been the tailor’s two assistants). Potter’s take on the story had previously been adapted for a TV special in 1989, however the version we’re discussing here first aired in 1993 as part of the previously-mentioned animated series.

Around Christmas time, as part of the show’s live-action framing device, Beatrix Potter (Niamh Cusack) is visited by a group of carolers, to whom her maid Daisy (Jemima Feyne) provides treats. This reminds Potter that she has to send a letter to someone, transitioning to the main story in animation. On the week of Christmas, the Tailor of Gloucester (Ian Holm) leaves his shop after preparing to make a special coat for the Mayor’s wedding on Christmas, with mice in the walls quietly observing his work. After he gets back home, a rented kitchen due to not being well off financially, the Tailor falls ill for a few days, leaving him unable to complete his work, while his cat Simpkin (Derek Griffiths) hides a cherry-colored cloth that he desperately needs for the coat. Unbeknownst to him, the mice have taken up this task in the meantime, following the techniques they’ve watched him perform.

The mice watch as the Tailor (Ian Holm) thinks over his current predicament.

The animated portion is very lovingly animated, following a style that resembles Beatrix Potter’s as much as animation would allow. The letter briefly shown in the framing device features an amazing recreation of the original book’s cover art, which provides a nice transition into an animated version of said illustration that leads into the beginning of the story (below is a comparison of Potter's original art and the animated version). The general art direction, especially the backgrounds, makes it truly appear as though Potter’s illustrations have come to life, much like the rest of the series it was produced for.

The story essentially covers that of the book, with some very minor filler added to one sequence to fill out 27 minutes, however the extra scenes (like the rest of the series) contribute to the story and help flesh out certain things described in the book. The story itself is fairly unique for a Christmas story, taking the inspiration for it in a direction befitting the more whimsical nature of Potter's works. The antagonistic cat Simpkin, whose fictionalized real-life counterpart appears in the live-action framing device as one of Potter's pets, also goes through a character arc of sorts as he explores the city of Gloucester on the night of Christmas Eve, culminating in a sort of character redemption one expects from a Christmas story, only in a more subtle fashion. The mice more or less steal the show as they help out the Tailor, though the story is paced and executed well enough that this is barely noticeable.

The actress for Beatrix Potter, Niamh Cusack, really brings out the personality of the author as presented in the books and holds the atmosphere of the episode together. Interestingly, Ian Holm, the voice of the Tailor, had previously played the character in aforementioned 1989 TV special; while I cannot vouch for his performance there, it’s clear that his performance must have been good enough for him to be recast for the 1993 version, in which he does an amazing job bringing the character to life.

One thing of note is that the episode is dedicated to the memory of Dianne Jackson, who had been heavily involved with The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, writing and directing the first six episodes prior to her death in early 1992 as a result of cancer. Her contributions to the series helped to make it what it is and bring Potter's works to a new generation.

If you’re looking for something more heart-felt to watch during the holiday season, and/or you are looking for something different in a sea of A Christmas Carol adaptations, I would strongly recommend The Tailor of Gloucester. While being a loving recreation of the book, the episode has a generally more innocent tone coupled with some really amazing acting and animation. This episode makes for perfect Christmas-time viewing and is a definite must-watch for fans of Beatrix Potter, as is the rest of The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, for its faithfulness to the source material in both content and art direction.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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