HAPPY EVER AF­TER

Beatrix Pot­ter’s dar­ing young hero con­tin­ues to charm a new gen­er­a­tion. By Jenny Uglow

Town & Country (UK) - - COUNTRY -

For more than 100 years, Pe­ter Rab­bit has squeezed un­der the gate, dived into the wa­ter­ing-can and wrig­gled out of his blue coat in the goose­berry net. His lat­est big-screen ap­pear­ance con­firms his ap­peal. ‘Once upon a time,’ the story be­gins. It’s a clas­sic tale of chil­dren on their own, as Mrs Rab­bit sets off to the baker with her bas­ket and um­brella. In a mag­i­cal, minia­ture ver­sion of an an­cient plot, we find re­bel­lion against parental com­mands, dar­ing ad­ven­ture, dan­ger and bliss­ful re­turn. We can tell at once by the look on Pe­ter’s face that he’s de­ter­mined to ig­nore the warn­ing ‘don’t go into Mr Mcgre­gor’s gar­den’, de­spite the dire fate of his papa. The sus­pense is ter­rific.

Beatrix Pot­ter wrote this es­cape from sick­ness and trou­ble in 1893 for five-yearold Noel Moore, who was re­cov­er­ing from scar­let fever. Since its first pub­li­ca­tion in 1901, how many par­ents and chil­dren have en­joyed sound­ing out the threat­en­ing screech of the hoe, ‘scr-r-itch scratch, scratch, scritch’? Gar­den­ers may have some sym­pa­thy with Mr Mcgre­gor, but the story makes us all tres­passers, with a warm bed and camomile tea our only pun­ish­ment. Pot­ter based Pe­ter on her much-loved pet rab­bit Pe­ter Piper, and ev­ery ‘lip­pity-lip­pity’ move­ment is beau­ti­fully ob­served. She takes the same care with the black­birds who pinch the black­ber­ries, the robin that pecks at Pe­ter’s shoe, the friendly spar­rows, dan­ger­ous white cat and old mouse. No Dis­ney an­i­ma­tion can match this scrupu­lous, af­fec­tion­ate at­ten­tion to an­i­mals and birds.

We as­so­ciate Beatrix Pot­ter with the Cum­brian fells, but Pe­ter Rab­bit’s set­tings are sim­ply a wood and a gar­den. It’s a story about the lure and risk of bound­aries, and the re­lief of get­ting home. Some­thing we can all feel, how­ever old we are. ‘Pe­ter Rab­bit’ will be re­leased on 16 March.

above: beatrix pot­ter with her pet rab­bit in 1891. bot­tom: a still from the new film

left: pe­ter rab­bit munch­ing radishes (1902). above right: pot­ter, aged five, hold­ing a toy rab­bit, with her cousin. right: a 1902 il­lus­tra­tion

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