In 1972 Richard Adams wrote Watership Down. The award-winning novel featured a group of rabbits escaping the destruction of their warren to seek and create a better life based on their own rules. The story was adapted into a hand-drawn animated movie starring the late John Hurt (The War Doctor) and Richard Briers. The original film and novel depicted the brutality of specific political systems along with their abuse and violence.
Tonight, BBC airs the first two episodes of a four-part new adaptation of the series. Adapted for the screen by Tom Bidwell (My Mad Fat Diary), this tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of rabbits as they flee the inevitable destruction of their home. Led by stout-hearted brothers Hazel and Fiver (voiced by James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult), the rabbits journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, towards the hope of a better life. Watership Down’s star cast also features the vocal talents of John Boyega, Olivia Colman, Sir Ben Kingsley, Tom Wilkinson, Gemma Arterton, Peter Capaldi (The Twelfth Doctor), Mackenzie Crook, Anne-Marie Duff, Taron Egerton, Freddie Fox, Daniel Kaluuya, Rory Kinnear, Craig Parkinson, Rosamund Pike, Jason Watkins, and Gemma Chan.
This new adaptation, created through a joint venture between the BBC and Netflix and directed by Noam Murro, uses CGI to create a semi-realistic world of rabbits of Watership Down but with some modernisations. The shocking violence of the original 1978 film is toned down, and although there are several scenes of brutality and abuse, the sheer number of deaths is significantly reduced. Also, a number of the male rabbits, most notably Strawberry (Olivia Colman) have been changed from bucks to females.
However, even with the reduction of violence, it will be disturbing to young children. This is still Watership Down, and the story still contains a brutal depiction of dictatorships and totalism regimes. Older children will benefit greatly from watching the show with a parent around to explain how the rabbits’ struggles for survival reflect modern human life.
Rory Aitken, executive producer at production company 42, confirmed these changes when discussing the new adaptation with the Telegraph. “While we won’t shy away from the darkness in the book, visually it won’t be as brutal and scarring,” he said. “The idea is to bring it to a wider family audience. While Watership Down is never going to be for young children, it will be for the whole family to watch together.”
The new remake benefits from a brilliant and talented cast ranging from Xmen James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult, Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi, John Boyega from Star Wars, Sir Ben Kingsley, Rosamund Pike and the talented Olivia Coleman.
Episodes 1 and 2 air tonight on BBC One at 7pm and concludes on Sunday at 7:20 pm with Episodes 3 & 4. The full programme will also be available on Netflix and BBC iPlayer later on Sunday evening.
- James McAvoy as Hazel
- Nicholas Hoult as Fiver
- John Boyega as Bigwig
- Olivia Colman as Strawberry
- Sir Ben Kingsley as General Woundwort
- Tom Wilkinson as Threarah
- Gemma Arterton as Clover
- Peter Capaldi as Kehaar
- Mackenzie Crook as Hawkbit
- Anne-Marie Duff as Hyzenthlay
- Taron Egerton as El-Ahrairah
- Freddie Fox as Captain Holly
- Daniel Kaluuya as Bluebell
- Miles Jupp as Blackberry
- Rory Kinnear as Cowslip
- Craig Parkinson as Sergeant Sainfoin
- Rosamund Pike as The Black Rabbit Of Inlé
- Jason Watkins as Captain Orchis
- Gemma Chan as Dewdrop