Emma Thompson? It’s Peter Rabbit here...

A very unusual letter led the actress to write a lovely new tale of Peter Rabbit. She talks to Sameer Rahim.

Emma Thompson Peter Rabbit
Emma Thompson was intrigued by an unusual approach by publisher Frederick Warne Photo: REX FEATURES

In the summer of 2010, the Oscar-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson received an intriguing package in the post. Inside was a small cardboard box with a half-eaten radish leaf and a letter from Peter Rabbit.
The letter said Thompson’s “certain mischievous twinkle” in her eye made her the perfect person to write another adventure for the rabbit – a sequel to Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s story.
“It was such a witty invitation,” Thompson tells me, “and it was very clever because in a sense I was completely tricked.” She laughs in that familiar warm and spontaneous way.
“If Frederick Warne,” – the publisher of the Peter Rabbit stories – “had sent some official letter I would have said don’t be ridiculous, I can’t think of anything I want to do less than step into the footsteps of a genius like Potter.” But the publisher’s sweetly cunning ploy worked, and next week sees the publication of The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson, published for the 110th anniversary of the book’s original publication.
The story has a nice symmetry with the way in which Beatrix Potter first created her animal stories. In September 1893 Potter heard that Noel Moore, the young son of her ex-governess, was unwell. To cheer him up she sent him a letter with the story of Peter Rabbit who, unlike his goody-goody siblings Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, disobeys his mother and breaks into Mr McGregor’s garden.

Potter also included charming sketches that she later coloured-in for the 1902 published version. She honed her skills through drawing insects and mushrooms and had even submitted a scientific paper to the Linnean Society (it was rejected because she was a woman).
As shown in the 2006 film Miss Potter, she fell in love with her editor Norman Warne and they got engaged in opposition to her parents, who thought his profession lowly. A month later, however, Norman died.
Thompson is attracted to the darkness in Potter’s stories. “Some of them are profoundly unsettling,” Thompson tells me, “and of course those were my favourites when I grew up.” When Mr McGregor chases Peter Rabbit there is the real danger he will share his father’s fate – being baked in a pie for the farmer’s table.
“When I was doing Nanny McPhee,” says Thompson, referring to the two hugely successful films she wrote and starred in, “people would say: but there’s death and there’s divorce and there’s disappointment. But children more than anyone instinctively know that life is full of danger.” She adds: “I’m sure if you asked Jo Rowling, she’d say the same thing.”
Full piece at The Telegraph