Tonight the final two episodes of the 2018 remake of Richard Adams’ 1972 novel, Watership Down, air on the BBC. The full series will be available on Netflix in the US and UK as well as BBC iPlayer later tonight. As stated yesterday, this new adaptation uses CGI to create a semi-realistic world of rabbits of Watership Down and features the vocal talents of an all-star cast. Adapted for the screen by Tom Bidwell, this tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of rabbits as they flee the inevitable destruction of their home and create a new and better life.
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 voices 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 is an exceptionally well written and well-acted presentation of a great novel. The story and performances from the cast are brilliant, but it has one major flaw. What has struck most critics and viewers alike is the less-than-perfect CGI, along with the somewhat-stilted animation and movement of the animals. To paraphrase many viewers, the rabbits don’t look like rabbits, and it can be challenging in some scenes to identify the individual rabbits. However, even with the less optimal CGI, the strength of the story and skill of the performers creates a beautiful woven tale and strong of empathy for these rabbits as they fight for survival. The story’s potency still shines through with its ability to reach into themes of life, death, brutality, sexism and abuse, while still shining the light on the best of love, friendship and caring.
Tom Bidwell’s script and Noam Murro‘s direction weave the core of original novel deftly but steer away from the sheer number of deaths that the 1978 hand-drawn tale, starring John Hurt, achieved. According to Siobhan Palmer’s article in iNews, there were less than 14 deaths in this four-part version vs 64 deaths in the 1978 shorter film. Much less brutal, but still not a tale for young children.
The cast excels, particularly the leads. James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult stand out and are entirely believable and empathic as the two brothers Hazel and Fiver, while Sir Ben Kingsley dominates the screen as dictator General Woundwort. But it is John Boyega who shines the most as Bigwig, the giant soldier of a rabbit that befriends Hazel and Fiver and defends the new warren at Watership Down. His performance adds layers and colour to what could have been a one-dimensional role. And we can’t help but mention Peter Capaldi as the gull, Kehaar, which will have you laughing at his antics and roguish behaviour.
I must mention Sam Smith’s theme song – Fire on Fire – which is very good and much better than his James Bond Spectre song. We’ve managed to source the video for you to enjoy below.
This remake of Watership Down has its flaws. Some will object to the amination and the change of gender of some of the principal characters – namely Strawberry as portrayed by Olivia Colman. But it is the durability of Adams’ story and the strength of the performances that make it something to watch this holiday season. Although a number will prefer the original 1978 hand-drawn animation, this new depiction will likely bring a more modern audience to this story who will hopefully read the original novel.
Episodes 3 & 4 air tonight on BBC One at 7:20. The full programme will also be available on Netflix and BBC iPlayer later on Sunday evening.